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russia-inflation

Inflation is now at 2.7% as of October 2017, down from double-digit rates three years ago and overshooting the Central Bank of Russia’s 4% target for this year.

This constitutes an all-time post-Soviet low.

This is in large part thanks to the hawkish monetary policy of CBR head Elvira Nabiullina, and indirectly of Putin, who gave her and the economic liberal bloc political cover in the face of populist opposition demanding lower interest rates and greater state invervention in the economy.

Once Soviet-era capacities, at least in those sectors where they were market-competitive, were restored by the mid-2000s, Russia’s high growth rate petered out (though irrational exuberance sustained it for a couple more years until the 2008 crash). The major problem, besides an atrocious business climate, was that high inflationary expectations had become embedded. High inflation discourages savings, which you need for investment. Consequently, banks were only prepared to lend to small and medium sized businesses at rapacious rates of interest.

But it now looks like Russia’s version of the Volcker shock since 2014 has finally succeeded in taming inflation for good.

This is especially significant since it comes on the back of three other major achievements that are of long-term relevance to growth.

1. A rise from ~120th (i.e. Nigeria) to 35th (i.e. Japan) position on the World Bank’s Ease of Doing Business since the start of Putin’s third term. Russia is still far from the best place to do business in, but it is vastly better than it was a decade ago.

2. A near halving in the numbers of Russian “pocket banks,” to the benefit of established and more transparent lenders (a consolidation that Nabiullina has spearheaded).

3. The beginning of semi-serious efforts to resurrect Russia’s moribund R&D capacities. (More on this later).

Finally, Russia has managed to do all this without the big budget deficits, yawning debt increases, and the unusual monetary experiments that have characterized Western policies since 2000.

Despite the political and foreign policy failures of Putin’s third term in office, and its more “embedded” problems such as elite rent-seeking and excessive state ownership, economic policy during this period is praiseworthy and, barring major geopolitical crises, stands Russia in good stead for a decade of solid growth.

 
• Category: Economics • Tags: Inflation, Russia 
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  1. Randal says:

    I know you have your issues with Putin, and I’m certainly not one who regards him as beyond criticism, but honestly as far as national leadership results go he looks head and shoulders above Blair/Brown/Cameron/May, or Clinton/Bush/Obama to me. Perfection is not of course to be expected from any human being and perhaps especially from any national leader, but the UK and US leaders look especially incompetent and/or downright treasonous next to Putin.

    Then again, rather than “foreign policy failures” I see foreign policy successes or careful avoidances of defeats, in a hugely challenging and dangerous environment.

    Read More
    • Agree: reiner Tor
    • Replies: @reiner Tor

    as far as national leadership results go he looks head and shoulders above Blair/Brown/Cameron/May, or Clinton/Bush/Obama to me
     
    Wow, that must be the lowest bar ever.
    , @Felix Keverich
    Putin is a solid, if mediocre leader. Not a disaster, like the drunkard Yeltsin, but hardly inspiring.

    The loss of (most of) the Ukraine in 2014 was HUGE defeat for Russia, you don't need to be a Russian nationalist to recognise it.
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  2. @Randal
    I know you have your issues with Putin, and I'm certainly not one who regards him as beyond criticism, but honestly as far as national leadership results go he looks head and shoulders above Blair/Brown/Cameron/May, or Clinton/Bush/Obama to me. Perfection is not of course to be expected from any human being and perhaps especially from any national leader, but the UK and US leaders look especially incompetent and/or downright treasonous next to Putin.

    Then again, rather than "foreign policy failures" I see foreign policy successes or careful avoidances of defeats, in a hugely challenging and dangerous environment.

    as far as national leadership results go he looks head and shoulders above Blair/Brown/Cameron/May, or Clinton/Bush/Obama to me

    Wow, that must be the lowest bar ever.

    Read More
    • Agree: German_reader
    • Replies: @Randal
    Fair point, but it is after all the bar that actually exists.
    , @Verymuchalive
    Blair (Mossad Asset and Failed lawyer ), Brown ( Failed Academic, Politician and Scotsman ), Cameron (Mossad Asset and Trust Fund Baby ), May (Mossad Asset and Overpromoted Middle Manager ), Clinton ( CIA Asset and Sex Criminal ), Bush ( CIA Asset and Trust Fund Baby), Obama ( CIA Hereditary Serf and Failed Lawyer )
    The Bar must have been embedded in the road.
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  3. Randal says:
    @reiner Tor

    as far as national leadership results go he looks head and shoulders above Blair/Brown/Cameron/May, or Clinton/Bush/Obama to me
     
    Wow, that must be the lowest bar ever.

    Fair point, but it is after all the bar that actually exists.

    Read More
    • Replies: @reiner Tor
    Otherwise I actually agree with your previous comment.
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  4. @Randal
    Fair point, but it is after all the bar that actually exists.

    Otherwise I actually agree with your previous comment.

    Read More
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  5. @reiner Tor

    as far as national leadership results go he looks head and shoulders above Blair/Brown/Cameron/May, or Clinton/Bush/Obama to me
     
    Wow, that must be the lowest bar ever.

    Blair (Mossad Asset and Failed lawyer ), Brown ( Failed Academic, Politician and Scotsman ), Cameron (Mossad Asset and Trust Fund Baby ), May (Mossad Asset and Overpromoted Middle Manager ), Clinton ( CIA Asset and Sex Criminal ), Bush ( CIA Asset and Trust Fund Baby), Obama ( CIA Hereditary Serf and Failed Lawyer )
    The Bar must have been embedded in the road.

    Read More
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  6. Puja says:

    I’m happy for Russia. You guys had a horrific 20th century. In terms of baseline strengths, it is hard to beat you. You have tons of natural resources(oil and gas is the most talked about, but even stuff like freshwater will be hugely important as the world develops and food habits change with it, thus destroying brittle freshwater resources of already-strained developing countries, like my own).

    You have a strong industrial-military complex. While you are not at the same level as the US or China in, say, AI or similar technologies, you’re certainly top 5. Your fertility has gone up. You still have a lot of agricultural productivity left to catch up to, opening more export opportunities.

    I agree with Ruchir Sharma that in a world which has demographically peaked (https://www.foreignaffairs.com/videos/2016-02-28/ruchir-sharma-population-plateau), getting 2-3% in per capita growth rates should be seen as good if your GDP per capita is already at 20K or above.

    I study quite a bit of economic history and it took Sweden 200 years to become developed. Their average per capita growth was something like 1.5% during their long industrialisation process. One should also mentioned that the so-called “middle income trap” is actually totally unsupported by empirical evidence, something even the world bank admits (http://documents.worldbank.org/curated/en/965511468194956837/pdf/104230-BRI-Policy-1.pdf).

    Overall, the key point to prosperity is not rapid one-off episodic growth, which much of Latin America is prone to, but steady accumulation over long time horizons. People are biased to look at East Asia, but those are one-offs. Most of today’s wealthy countries took centuries to get rich. Russia is already quite well-off by Western 1950s standards, probably at or even above what the average Westerner had in the first few decades of the WWII era.

    What I’m saying, in so many words, is that Russia’s fundamentals are strong, the fabled ‘middle-income trap’ is a myth with no empirical backing and if it can keep a per capita growth rate of 2-3%, that should be seen as good given it’s already at a relatively high income per capita. The only possible derailment I see is if Putin is dragged into neo-imperialist folly and starts doing random wars which soon would bog Russia down and it becomes a sinkhole which is taking up more and more money, and which Putin would find it hard to cut loose since it would cause massive loss of ‘face’, as the Chinese call it.

    Read More
    • Replies: @Kimppis
    Largely agree with your comment, but I have a few points:

    The "problem" is that the West is still growing by around 2% per year. So Russia needs growth rates that are slightly above that, like 3-4%, rather than 2-3%.

    However, it's true that Russia is already quite developed, so massive growth should not be expected, nor needed. China is an outlier, and its GDP per capita (PPP) is still considerably lower, as is its HDI, which most people don't seem to realize.

    Also, the middle income trap is indeed largely BS, but Russia has actually already "crossed" it anyway. Russia was already classified as a "high income economy" by World Bank (i.e. the highest category, above middle income countries). That said, Russia did lose that position after ruble's devaluation, because it's based on nominal GDP, but especially in Russia's case I don't think that is particularly relevant and PPP GDP per capita is still aroundg 25K.

    The USSR was actually also quite developed by the 1970, but it's not exactly comparable because the system was so different and it had some massive flaws.

    I think I understand what you mean by "the 1950s" part, but of course different eras are not comparable like that. (Neither is Sweden's process of "convergence" comparable because it largely/partially happened before the 20th centrury, when average growth rates were lower everywhere, among other things.) As well, I think today's Russians are far better off than 1950s "Westerners" in every possible way, including things like life expectancy, in which Russia is still a negative outlier.


    ==============

    To Karlin:


    Thanks for the article, summed it up well.

    The government's "objective" is to reach growth rates that are above (or at?) the global average, so at around 3% or slightly alove, by 2019 (or was it 2020?). Do you think it's achievable? Or even close? To me it certainly seems possible, more or less, as the economy is already up by over 2% this year.

    The article on the R&D capabilities is going to be interesting, looking forward to it. One thing I noticed while browsing Wikipedia was that the eastern and southern European R&D spending (as % of GDP) is indeed "oddly" lacking, seemingly without exceptions.

    They are still OK by global standards, around 1% of GDP, which makes Russia's R&D spending quite high actually (in PPP terms), but yeah, Western Europe, NA, East Asia (including China) are huge outliers. How hard can it be? Just simply increase the spending to 2%, lol (and yes, I realize it's not that simple).
    , @anon
    http://www.indexmundi.com/agriculture/?country=ru&commodity=wheat&graph=exports

    Russia is now the world's #1 wheat exporter.

    The catalyst has been the low Ruble following sanctions. I don't want to argue that Russia couldn't do more to increase productivity, but the agriculture sector has shown the ability to respond to their favorable economic position with strong growth.

    Russia is also a major producer and exporter of potash. https://investingnews.com/daily/resource-investing/agriculture-investing/potash-investing/top-potash-producing-countries/

    It has the capacity to support agriculture with low cost inputs -- which ties in to its strength in petroleum production.

    Potential negatives are an upward valuation of the Ruble and the fact that agriculture is simply too small a proportion of GDP of highly advanced economies to move the needle. That is, if it is above the low single digits, it's a problem.

    As far as what to make of it? First, agriculture production statistics are hardly common knowledge and the news had a shock value based on old stereotypes of Soviet agriculture. And secondly, the ramp up in production shows the flexibility and responsiveness of the Russian economy.

    And finally, the price stability is good news. But deflation is unlikely to be on anyones radar, but it can and has occurred in sectors and is a threat.

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  7. @Randal
    I know you have your issues with Putin, and I'm certainly not one who regards him as beyond criticism, but honestly as far as national leadership results go he looks head and shoulders above Blair/Brown/Cameron/May, or Clinton/Bush/Obama to me. Perfection is not of course to be expected from any human being and perhaps especially from any national leader, but the UK and US leaders look especially incompetent and/or downright treasonous next to Putin.

    Then again, rather than "foreign policy failures" I see foreign policy successes or careful avoidances of defeats, in a hugely challenging and dangerous environment.

    Putin is a solid, if mediocre leader. Not a disaster, like the drunkard Yeltsin, but hardly inspiring.

    The loss of (most of) the Ukraine in 2014 was HUGE defeat for Russia, you don’t need to be a Russian nationalist to recognise it.

    Read More
    • Replies: @Mitleser

    The loss of (most of) the Ukraine in 2014 was HUGE defeat for Russia, you don’t need to be a Russian nationalist to recognise it.
     
    The Ukraine was not lost in 2014, but earlier.
    1991 is a more correct answer.
    , @Stavros H
    Yes, but the victory over NATO in the Middle East is far more important than the Maidan (which is bound to implode anyway)
    , @Randal

    Putin is a solid, if mediocre leader. Not a disaster, like the drunkard Yeltsin, but hardly inspiring.
     
    "Not a disaster" is pretty inspiring, if you ask me, in a national leader. But then again I live in one of those countries setting the bar so remarkably low for national leadership recently, as reiner tor pointed out above and Verymuchalive reinforced.

    The loss of (most of) the Ukraine in 2014 was HUGE defeat for Russia, you don’t need to be a Russian nationalist to recognise it.
     
    You are right of course that Maidan was a huge disaster for Russia and I suppose the established leader has to take responsibility for that. I just view it in an overall context in which Russia has been effectively under continuous pressure by immense forces in the US and EU since the 1990s, and Ukraine was part of that - the Maidan did not come out of the blue but occurred in the context of generally rising Ukrainian nationalism encouraged by massive US and EU interference and the still hugely influential post-communist hangover. If Russia had not been managed pretty well post-Yeltsin, NATO would be in Kiev and Georgia and those countries would be part of the effort to push into Belarus and even Russia. Remember that a couple of years prior to Maidan, the colour revolution focus was in Russia itself.

    From my perspective, the Maidan defeat is more a reflection of the immense forces ranged against Russia than it is on the competence of the Russian leadership. For sure, there's a risk of falling into excuse-making there, and I absolutely don't doubt that there are many things that could have been done better. But the flipside of excuse-making is second-guessing with the benefit of hindsight.

    It's not as though the alternative to Maidan would have been a warm and friendly fraternal relationship between Russia and Ukraine. Most likely there would have been a victory for anti-Russian nationalists in the elections coming up anyway and another period of confrontation as in the "orange" years. And with that democratic legitimacy and no trigger to set off secession in the east, quite likely that would have meant Ukraine joining the EU, which ultimately means NATO a few years down the line.

    Plenty of things that are "unthinkable" now could have been perfectly likely if events had gone differently.

    Your proposal to send troops to Kiev in 2014 would quite likely have resulted in a massive anti-Russian backlash in Europe, in open war in Kiev with massive cross-border assistance to Ukrainian nationalists, and probably in Russia's wholesale exclusion from the US/EU financial system. It would have played right into the hands of the Russophobe forces in the US and EU.

    In the long run, partition of the Ukraine still seems like the only plausible long term solution, and itself not an easy or comfortable solution at that.
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  8. Anon says: • Disclaimer

    Watch for the detractors at home and across the ocean whining that “Russian statistics are unreliable” – pretty much the same chorus we hear every time one of the perceived enemies of the Hillary-at reports there are other ways. This complaint has never surfaced during the 2017 US healtthcare reform, where the “independent” OBR produced repeatedly, overnight, estimates of costs for each proposed reform.

    Read More
    • Replies: @Daniel Chieh
    Of course, if anything shows that the US isn't the Greatest Country in the world, it must be false.
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  9. Mitleser says:
    @Felix Keverich
    Putin is a solid, if mediocre leader. Not a disaster, like the drunkard Yeltsin, but hardly inspiring.

    The loss of (most of) the Ukraine in 2014 was HUGE defeat for Russia, you don't need to be a Russian nationalist to recognise it.

    The loss of (most of) the Ukraine in 2014 was HUGE defeat for Russia, you don’t need to be a Russian nationalist to recognise it.

    The Ukraine was not lost in 2014, but earlier.
    1991 is a more correct answer.

    Read More
    • Agree: melanf
    • Replies: @Felix Keverich
    Ukraine remained a battleground well into the 2010s, and even though the country formally became independent in 1991 didn't mean the relations had to become hostile.

    You know the thing I always wondered, how the heck did we (I'm Russian) spend 2 decades subsiding Ukraine to the tune of hundreds of billions of dollars and ended up in a situation where moron Yanukovich was the only Ukrainian politician willing to work with us?

    How the heck do you spend hundreds of billions, and get almost nothing (no political influence) in return? That was Putin's foreign policy on Ukrainian direction, and it imploded in 2014 in the most humiliating fashion.

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  10. Kimppis says:
    @Puja
    I'm happy for Russia. You guys had a horrific 20th century. In terms of baseline strengths, it is hard to beat you. You have tons of natural resources(oil and gas is the most talked about, but even stuff like freshwater will be hugely important as the world develops and food habits change with it, thus destroying brittle freshwater resources of already-strained developing countries, like my own).

    You have a strong industrial-military complex. While you are not at the same level as the US or China in, say, AI or similar technologies, you're certainly top 5. Your fertility has gone up. You still have a lot of agricultural productivity left to catch up to, opening more export opportunities.

    I agree with Ruchir Sharma that in a world which has demographically peaked (https://www.foreignaffairs.com/videos/2016-02-28/ruchir-sharma-population-plateau), getting 2-3% in per capita growth rates should be seen as good if your GDP per capita is already at 20K or above.

    I study quite a bit of economic history and it took Sweden 200 years to become developed. Their average per capita growth was something like 1.5% during their long industrialisation process. One should also mentioned that the so-called "middle income trap" is actually totally unsupported by empirical evidence, something even the world bank admits (http://documents.worldbank.org/curated/en/965511468194956837/pdf/104230-BRI-Policy-1.pdf).

    Overall, the key point to prosperity is not rapid one-off episodic growth, which much of Latin America is prone to, but steady accumulation over long time horizons. People are biased to look at East Asia, but those are one-offs. Most of today's wealthy countries took centuries to get rich. Russia is already quite well-off by Western 1950s standards, probably at or even above what the average Westerner had in the first few decades of the WWII era.

    What I'm saying, in so many words, is that Russia's fundamentals are strong, the fabled 'middle-income trap' is a myth with no empirical backing and if it can keep a per capita growth rate of 2-3%, that should be seen as good given it's already at a relatively high income per capita. The only possible derailment I see is if Putin is dragged into neo-imperialist folly and starts doing random wars which soon would bog Russia down and it becomes a sinkhole which is taking up more and more money, and which Putin would find it hard to cut loose since it would cause massive loss of 'face', as the Chinese call it.

    Largely agree with your comment, but I have a few points:

    The “problem” is that the West is still growing by around 2% per year. So Russia needs growth rates that are slightly above that, like 3-4%, rather than 2-3%.

    However, it’s true that Russia is already quite developed, so massive growth should not be expected, nor needed. China is an outlier, and its GDP per capita (PPP) is still considerably lower, as is its HDI, which most people don’t seem to realize.

    Also, the middle income trap is indeed largely BS, but Russia has actually already “crossed” it anyway. Russia was already classified as a “high income economy” by World Bank (i.e. the highest category, above middle income countries). That said, Russia did lose that position after ruble’s devaluation, because it’s based on nominal GDP, but especially in Russia’s case I don’t think that is particularly relevant and PPP GDP per capita is still aroundg 25K.

    The USSR was actually also quite developed by the 1970, but it’s not exactly comparable because the system was so different and it had some massive flaws.

    I think I understand what you mean by “the 1950s” part, but of course different eras are not comparable like that. (Neither is Sweden’s process of “convergence” comparable because it largely/partially happened before the 20th centrury, when average growth rates were lower everywhere, among other things.) As well, I think today’s Russians are far better off than 1950s “Westerners” in every possible way, including things like life expectancy, in which Russia is still a negative outlier.

    ==============

    To Karlin:

    Thanks for the article, summed it up well.

    The government’s “objective” is to reach growth rates that are above (or at?) the global average, so at around 3% or slightly alove, by 2019 (or was it 2020?). Do you think it’s achievable? Or even close? To me it certainly seems possible, more or less, as the economy is already up by over 2% this year.

    The article on the R&D capabilities is going to be interesting, looking forward to it. One thing I noticed while browsing Wikipedia was that the eastern and southern European R&D spending (as % of GDP) is indeed “oddly” lacking, seemingly without exceptions.

    They are still OK by global standards, around 1% of GDP, which makes Russia’s R&D spending quite high actually (in PPP terms), but yeah, Western Europe, NA, East Asia (including China) are huge outliers. How hard can it be? Just simply increase the spending to 2%, lol (and yes, I realize it’s not that simple).

    Read More
    • Agree: Anatoly Karlin
    • Replies: @Puja

    the West is still growing by around 2% per year
     
    No. Notice what I said in my original comment: per capita growth rate. Most of the West, if you average the growth rate since 2010, has been growing at around 1% per capita, since those who have overall faster growth also have higher population growth. 2017 is likely to be the best year in a long time, but this year is an outlier.

    If Russia grows at 2% per capita, it will converge steadily. Furthermore, as both you and I agree, the country is already fairly well-off, though not at 2010s Western levels, but certainly above 1950s Western levels, possibly even approaching 1970s Western levels.

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  11. Stavros H says:

    Some things I agree and others I disagree with Karlin.

    Who said that state ownership of strategic enterprises that are in any case natural monopolies are bad for growth?

    Moreover, what foreign policy failures did Putin have in his third term? Other than the Maidan it has all been success after success, especially taking back Crimea and above all, defeating NATO, Israel and the GCC in the Middle East.

    Read More
    • Replies: @Anatoly Karlin
    There aren't that many natural monopolies.

    As Felix I believe rightly points out, the Maidan was a setback that frankly dwarfs everything else. The Crimea can be seen as a consolation prize, and a poisoned one, which locks Russia into a decades-long dispute with a vengeful Ukraine.

    What primary interests does Russia have in Syria?
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  12. Stavros H says:
    @Felix Keverich
    Putin is a solid, if mediocre leader. Not a disaster, like the drunkard Yeltsin, but hardly inspiring.

    The loss of (most of) the Ukraine in 2014 was HUGE defeat for Russia, you don't need to be a Russian nationalist to recognise it.

    Yes, but the victory over NATO in the Middle East is far more important than the Maidan (which is bound to implode anyway)

    Read More
    • Replies: @Anatoly Karlin

    ... far more important than the Maidan (which is bound to implode anyway)
     
    The Saker and many other Western Russophile pundits have been banging on about that in 2014, 2015, 2016, and 2017.

    It didn't happen then and the chances it will happen now or in the short to medium term future are small and continue to diminish.

    Why should it implode? It has already weathered the worst. At most you'll get an oligarchic coup against Poroshenko (though I doubt Tymoshenko/Kolomoysky and Saakashvili have the capacity for that - and if so, then what? they'll taker a nicer line towards Russia?). But even that's now quite unlikely, since the next Presidential elections are in 2019 anyway.
    , @Felix Keverich
    As a Russian, I disagree. Middle East is not our turf, and Russia will not be in Syria for the long haul. Instead, it will be Iran that will inherit the fruits of "our victory" there. We are spending resources and good men to ensure future Iranian hegemony in the Levant - that's pretty dumb.

    Our turf is Eastern Europe, and Ukraine is a country that we absolutely must dominate to have any claim at being a great power.
    , @Anatoly Karlin
    I also agree with Felix Keverich here.

    Syria has some marginal value as cheap training for the Russian AF, for Khmeimim (presumably nice to have, but not exactly critical), and perhaps as a potential bargaining chip with the US on other questions - such as the Ukraine.

    But ultimately:

    (1) As Putin himself said sometime around 2012, i.e. before the intervention, Syria was not important to Russia. He specifically noted that Bashar al-Assad had visited Paris far more frequently than Moscow before the war. And yet today the Western Russophiles, most of whom would have drawn up blanks when asked about who the Alawites were several years ago, are now falling over themselves hailing our Syrian bratushki and Russia's vital interests there.

    (2) There is nothing stopping Assad giving Russia the finger even if the war is fully won and he reclaims control over all of Syria. Certainly Russia doesn't have the economic strength to cement its political influence there, at least unless it goes the way of offering multi-billion reconstruction loans that are unlikely to be paid back (I am actually half expecting that to eventually happen).
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  13. @Stavros H
    Some things I agree and others I disagree with Karlin.

    Who said that state ownership of strategic enterprises that are in any case natural monopolies are bad for growth?

    Moreover, what foreign policy failures did Putin have in his third term? Other than the Maidan it has all been success after success, especially taking back Crimea and above all, defeating NATO, Israel and the GCC in the Middle East.

    There aren’t that many natural monopolies.

    As Felix I believe rightly points out, the Maidan was a setback that frankly dwarfs everything else. The Crimea can be seen as a consolation prize, and a poisoned one, which locks Russia into a decades-long dispute with a vengeful Ukraine.

    What primary interests does Russia have in Syria?

    Read More
    • Replies: @Mitleser
    Keep in mind that this setback happened in his third term, but not primarily because of his policy in the third term. There was not much he could have done to prevent that during his third term, at most push back harder after it happened.

    The Crimea can be seen as a consolation prize, and a poisoned one, which locks Russia into a decades-long dispute with a vengeful Ukraine.
     
    What was the alternative to that?

    What primary interests does Russia have in Syria?
     
    Preventing another regime change because Russia would be one of the next targets, killing Jihadists from the Soviet space so that they cannot return, destroying the Western "Isolated Russia" narrative and better training for armed forces.
    , @reiner Tor
    The Maidan was caused by a combination of a strong deliberate push by a much stronger West, and the very strong pull of the same among the Ukrainian population. Yes, Putin lost there, but it’s like saying that because Napoleon eventually lost, he wasn’t the greatest commander of the time. “Waterloo was more important than all the other battles combined.”
    , @Randal

    As Felix I believe rightly points out, the Maidan was a setback that frankly dwarfs everything else. The Crimea can be seen as a consolation prize, and a poisoned one, which locks Russia into a decades-long dispute with a vengeful Ukraine.
     
    The alternative to the Maidan was not a union of fraternal love between the Ukraine and Russia. There was going to be trouble and a big push to draw the Ukraine into the EU and inevitably afterwards NATO, anyway. In a way, perhaps the Maidan just brought things to a head more quickly.

    And extracting Crimea from the Ukraine is in itself a huge step forwards, since Crimea was always going to be an unending source of conflict between the Ukraine and Russia anyway (and a huge additional temptation for the US to try to draw the Ukraine into its sphere).


    What primary interests does Russia have in Syria?
     
    The primary interest was defeating Russia's main threat the US and preventing another Yugoslavia, especially considering the chosen weapon of the US in Syria was sunni jihadism, which was the last thing Russia needed to see further inspired.

    There have been plenty of collateral benefits as well - the wider perception of Russia has been transformed, mostly for the better (outside the parties with a direct interest - Saudi and Israeli lobbies etc, and the lumpen establishment propaganda consumers of the US sphere) as a result of success in Syria. Even amongst some of the alienated groups, there is at least a renewed respect for Russian military capabilities.

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  14. @Stavros H
    Yes, but the victory over NATO in the Middle East is far more important than the Maidan (which is bound to implode anyway)

    … far more important than the Maidan (which is bound to implode anyway)

    The Saker and many other Western Russophile pundits have been banging on about that in 2014, 2015, 2016, and 2017.

    It didn’t happen then and the chances it will happen now or in the short to medium term future are small and continue to diminish.

    Why should it implode? It has already weathered the worst. At most you’ll get an oligarchic coup against Poroshenko (though I doubt Tymoshenko/Kolomoysky and Saakashvili have the capacity for that – and if so, then what? they’ll taker a nicer line towards Russia?). But even that’s now quite unlikely, since the next Presidential elections are in 2019 anyway.

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  15. Mitleser says:
    @Anatoly Karlin
    There aren't that many natural monopolies.

    As Felix I believe rightly points out, the Maidan was a setback that frankly dwarfs everything else. The Crimea can be seen as a consolation prize, and a poisoned one, which locks Russia into a decades-long dispute with a vengeful Ukraine.

    What primary interests does Russia have in Syria?

    Keep in mind that this setback happened in his third term, but not primarily because of his policy in the third term. There was not much he could have done to prevent that during his third term, at most push back harder after it happened.

    The Crimea can be seen as a consolation prize, and a poisoned one, which locks Russia into a decades-long dispute with a vengeful Ukraine.

    What was the alternative to that?

    What primary interests does Russia have in Syria?

    Preventing another regime change because Russia would be one of the next targets, killing Jihadists from the Soviet space so that they cannot return, destroying the Western “Isolated Russia” narrative and better training for armed forces.

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    • Replies: @Felix Keverich


    The Crimea can be seen as a consolation prize, and a poisoned one, which locks Russia into a decades-long dispute with a vengeful Ukraine.
     
    What was the alternative to that?
     
    Back in February 2014: send the troops to Kiev instead of the Crimea to oversee the "transition of power" from Yanukovich, appoint some Russian spy as the new "acting president", who will impose a permament state of emergency, dissolve the Rada, disperse the Maidan, exterminate pro-Western politicians.

    How's that for an alternative? It's a risky plan, with lots of things that could go wrong along the way, but control of Ukraine is vastly more important than control of Crimea. The Kremlin gave up on the Ukraine too quickly and too easily.
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  16. anon says: • Disclaimer
    @Puja
    I'm happy for Russia. You guys had a horrific 20th century. In terms of baseline strengths, it is hard to beat you. You have tons of natural resources(oil and gas is the most talked about, but even stuff like freshwater will be hugely important as the world develops and food habits change with it, thus destroying brittle freshwater resources of already-strained developing countries, like my own).

    You have a strong industrial-military complex. While you are not at the same level as the US or China in, say, AI or similar technologies, you're certainly top 5. Your fertility has gone up. You still have a lot of agricultural productivity left to catch up to, opening more export opportunities.

    I agree with Ruchir Sharma that in a world which has demographically peaked (https://www.foreignaffairs.com/videos/2016-02-28/ruchir-sharma-population-plateau), getting 2-3% in per capita growth rates should be seen as good if your GDP per capita is already at 20K or above.

    I study quite a bit of economic history and it took Sweden 200 years to become developed. Their average per capita growth was something like 1.5% during their long industrialisation process. One should also mentioned that the so-called "middle income trap" is actually totally unsupported by empirical evidence, something even the world bank admits (http://documents.worldbank.org/curated/en/965511468194956837/pdf/104230-BRI-Policy-1.pdf).

    Overall, the key point to prosperity is not rapid one-off episodic growth, which much of Latin America is prone to, but steady accumulation over long time horizons. People are biased to look at East Asia, but those are one-offs. Most of today's wealthy countries took centuries to get rich. Russia is already quite well-off by Western 1950s standards, probably at or even above what the average Westerner had in the first few decades of the WWII era.

    What I'm saying, in so many words, is that Russia's fundamentals are strong, the fabled 'middle-income trap' is a myth with no empirical backing and if it can keep a per capita growth rate of 2-3%, that should be seen as good given it's already at a relatively high income per capita. The only possible derailment I see is if Putin is dragged into neo-imperialist folly and starts doing random wars which soon would bog Russia down and it becomes a sinkhole which is taking up more and more money, and which Putin would find it hard to cut loose since it would cause massive loss of 'face', as the Chinese call it.

    http://www.indexmundi.com/agriculture/?country=ru&commodity=wheat&graph=exports

    Russia is now the world’s #1 wheat exporter.

    The catalyst has been the low Ruble following sanctions. I don’t want to argue that Russia couldn’t do more to increase productivity, but the agriculture sector has shown the ability to respond to their favorable economic position with strong growth.

    Russia is also a major producer and exporter of potash. https://investingnews.com/daily/resource-investing/agriculture-investing/potash-investing/top-potash-producing-countries/

    It has the capacity to support agriculture with low cost inputs — which ties in to its strength in petroleum production.

    Potential negatives are an upward valuation of the Ruble and the fact that agriculture is simply too small a proportion of GDP of highly advanced economies to move the needle. That is, if it is above the low single digits, it’s a problem.

    As far as what to make of it? First, agriculture production statistics are hardly common knowledge and the news had a shock value based on old stereotypes of Soviet agriculture. And secondly, the ramp up in production shows the flexibility and responsiveness of the Russian economy.

    And finally, the price stability is good news. But deflation is unlikely to be on anyones radar, but it can and has occurred in sectors and is a threat.

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  17. Puja says:
    @Kimppis
    Largely agree with your comment, but I have a few points:

    The "problem" is that the West is still growing by around 2% per year. So Russia needs growth rates that are slightly above that, like 3-4%, rather than 2-3%.

    However, it's true that Russia is already quite developed, so massive growth should not be expected, nor needed. China is an outlier, and its GDP per capita (PPP) is still considerably lower, as is its HDI, which most people don't seem to realize.

    Also, the middle income trap is indeed largely BS, but Russia has actually already "crossed" it anyway. Russia was already classified as a "high income economy" by World Bank (i.e. the highest category, above middle income countries). That said, Russia did lose that position after ruble's devaluation, because it's based on nominal GDP, but especially in Russia's case I don't think that is particularly relevant and PPP GDP per capita is still aroundg 25K.

    The USSR was actually also quite developed by the 1970, but it's not exactly comparable because the system was so different and it had some massive flaws.

    I think I understand what you mean by "the 1950s" part, but of course different eras are not comparable like that. (Neither is Sweden's process of "convergence" comparable because it largely/partially happened before the 20th centrury, when average growth rates were lower everywhere, among other things.) As well, I think today's Russians are far better off than 1950s "Westerners" in every possible way, including things like life expectancy, in which Russia is still a negative outlier.


    ==============

    To Karlin:


    Thanks for the article, summed it up well.

    The government's "objective" is to reach growth rates that are above (or at?) the global average, so at around 3% or slightly alove, by 2019 (or was it 2020?). Do you think it's achievable? Or even close? To me it certainly seems possible, more or less, as the economy is already up by over 2% this year.

    The article on the R&D capabilities is going to be interesting, looking forward to it. One thing I noticed while browsing Wikipedia was that the eastern and southern European R&D spending (as % of GDP) is indeed "oddly" lacking, seemingly without exceptions.

    They are still OK by global standards, around 1% of GDP, which makes Russia's R&D spending quite high actually (in PPP terms), but yeah, Western Europe, NA, East Asia (including China) are huge outliers. How hard can it be? Just simply increase the spending to 2%, lol (and yes, I realize it's not that simple).

    the West is still growing by around 2% per year

    No. Notice what I said in my original comment: per capita growth rate. Most of the West, if you average the growth rate since 2010, has been growing at around 1% per capita, since those who have overall faster growth also have higher population growth. 2017 is likely to be the best year in a long time, but this year is an outlier.

    If Russia grows at 2% per capita, it will converge steadily. Furthermore, as both you and I agree, the country is already fairly well-off, though not at 2010s Western levels, but certainly above 1950s Western levels, possibly even approaching 1970s Western levels.

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  18. @Anatoly Karlin
    There aren't that many natural monopolies.

    As Felix I believe rightly points out, the Maidan was a setback that frankly dwarfs everything else. The Crimea can be seen as a consolation prize, and a poisoned one, which locks Russia into a decades-long dispute with a vengeful Ukraine.

    What primary interests does Russia have in Syria?

    The Maidan was caused by a combination of a strong deliberate push by a much stronger West, and the very strong pull of the same among the Ukrainian population. Yes, Putin lost there, but it’s like saying that because Napoleon eventually lost, he wasn’t the greatest commander of the time. “Waterloo was more important than all the other battles combined.”

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    • Replies: @Felix Keverich
    There was an estimated 7 million ethnic Russians in Ukraine + millions of Russified Ukrainians, but the Kremlin made no effort to mobilise them into a pro-Russian lobby. There were half-hearted attempts to bribe/corrupt individual Ukrainian politicians - it was a pathetic effort, and it was destined to fail.

    With assets like this (millions of pro-Russian voters, economic and cultural ties), how did we end up in a situation, where moron like Yanukovich became the linchpin of our entire policy in Ukraine? For me, it's just mind-boggling! The Kremlin was shockingly LAZY.

    strong deliberate push by a much stronger West, and the very strong pull of the same among the Ukrainian population.
     

    These things don't just happen. True, the West made a real effort to engage Ukrainian society and groom loyal leaders, but there was no corresponding pull in the opposite direction (despite the many advantages Russia had), because the Kremlin doesn't understand how public politics works. They couldn't govern Russia in any way, except feudal, they tried bringing this approach to the Ukraine and it didn't work.

    There was zero effort to engage Russia-friendly elements of Ukrainian society. What they tried to do instead is to establish a joint criminal enterprise with Mr Yanukovich. That was the essense of Putin's Ukrainian policy and it was pathetic.

    , @Anatoly Karlin
    I don't think it was an extraordinary strong push by the West - yes, Nuland's cookies are a meme, but they hardly scale to the $15 billion "push" that Russia had just exerted to draw Ukraine into Eurasec - nor was there a particularly strong pull by Ukrainians - even as of February, a slight majority were against the Maidan in net terms (though critically, not in the capital).

    Russia has basically zero soft power and as Felix, I believe it correctly, points out, the main avenue of influence it can effectively (or "effectively") practice is crude bribery, which might work for a time with the sort of two bit kleptocrats typical of the region (Yanukovych being a prime example), but buys no true loyalty and only fosters condescension in their civil societies.

    PS. The fact that the Russian ambassador to Ukraine stayed in his post for several months after his epochal failure there is very telling about the Russian state's degree of concern about competence.
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  19. @Mitleser

    The loss of (most of) the Ukraine in 2014 was HUGE defeat for Russia, you don’t need to be a Russian nationalist to recognise it.
     
    The Ukraine was not lost in 2014, but earlier.
    1991 is a more correct answer.

    Ukraine remained a battleground well into the 2010s, and even though the country formally became independent in 1991 didn’t mean the relations had to become hostile.

    You know the thing I always wondered, how the heck did we (I’m Russian) spend 2 decades subsiding Ukraine to the tune of hundreds of billions of dollars and ended up in a situation where moron Yanukovich was the only Ukrainian politician willing to work with us?

    How the heck do you spend hundreds of billions, and get almost nothing (no political influence) in return? That was Putin’s foreign policy on Ukrainian direction, and it imploded in 2014 in the most humiliating fashion.

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    • Replies: @Mitleser
    Lack of support for pro-Russian forces.
    Instead the Kremlin chose to support pragmatics who were not able to stand up to Ukrainian nationalists and not cut support when nationalists were in-charge.
    It was safer for Ukrainian politicians to appease Ukrainian nationalists than the Kremlin who would be cooperative anyway.

    Ukraine remained a battleground well into the 2010s, and even though the country formally became independent in 1991 didn’t mean the relations had to become hostile.
     
    But they were from the beginning hostile.
    Remember that the first Ukrainian president was a nationalist and there was no Crimea lease agreement until he was gone.
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  20. @reiner Tor
    The Maidan was caused by a combination of a strong deliberate push by a much stronger West, and the very strong pull of the same among the Ukrainian population. Yes, Putin lost there, but it’s like saying that because Napoleon eventually lost, he wasn’t the greatest commander of the time. “Waterloo was more important than all the other battles combined.”

    There was an estimated 7 million ethnic Russians in Ukraine + millions of Russified Ukrainians, but the Kremlin made no effort to mobilise them into a pro-Russian lobby. There were half-hearted attempts to bribe/corrupt individual Ukrainian politicians – it was a pathetic effort, and it was destined to fail.

    With assets like this (millions of pro-Russian voters, economic and cultural ties), how did we end up in a situation, where moron like Yanukovich became the linchpin of our entire policy in Ukraine? For me, it’s just mind-boggling! The Kremlin was shockingly LAZY.

    strong deliberate push by a much stronger West, and the very strong pull of the same among the Ukrainian population.

    These things don’t just happen. True, the West made a real effort to engage Ukrainian society and groom loyal leaders, but there was no corresponding pull in the opposite direction (despite the many advantages Russia had), because the Kremlin doesn’t understand how public politics works. They couldn’t govern Russia in any way, except feudal, they tried bringing this approach to the Ukraine and it didn’t work.

    There was zero effort to engage Russia-friendly elements of Ukrainian society. What they tried to do instead is to establish a joint criminal enterprise with Mr Yanukovich. That was the essense of Putin’s Ukrainian policy and it was pathetic.

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    • Agree: AP
    • Replies: @Anon

    True, the West made a real effort to engage Ukrainian society and groom loyal leaders, but there was no corresponding pull in the opposite direction (despite the many advantages Russia had), because the Kremlin doesn’t understand how public politics works. They couldn’t govern Russia in any way, except feudal, they tried bringing this approach to the Ukraine and it didn’t work.
     
    Bolshevik please, it has nothing to do with feudalism, but the Kremlin's strong preference for other governments and cooperation with them, even it is at the expense of the more cooperative parts of the society. That is statism.

    There was zero effort to engage Russia-friendly elements of Ukrainian society.
     
    That is what you get for not sending your best.

    Zurabov is deservedly one of the most criticised officials in the Russian government. Unlike the great majority of Russian ambassadors he is not a career diplomat but was a former liberal politician who as Russia’s minister of health in the mid 2000s tried to introduce market mechanisms to Russia’s health system, which backfired earning him a public reprimand from none other than Putin himself. In 2009 he was sent to Kiev as ambassador in what appears to have been intended as a form of political exile.

    The Kremlin has in the past had the unfortunate habit of treating the vital diplomatic post of ambassador to Kiev as a sort of dustbin for failed Moscow politicians. Zurabov’s predecessor as ambassador, Yeltsin’s former prime minister Viktor Chernomydin, was another example. The lack of strong Russian representatives in Kiev has proved disastrous and is key to understanding why Moscow was so completely unprepared for the Maidan coup, and has had so much difficulty shaping events on the ground in Ukraine in its own interests both before the coup and since.

    Suffice to say that Zurabov was nowhere to be seen during the Maidan protests of 2013-2014, which led to the overthrow of Ukraine’s President Yanukovych. Nor has he played any significant role in the Ukrainian conflict since. Throughout the whole history of the Ukrainian conflict, because of his passivity and incompetence, Moscow’s voice in Kiev has been muffled or silent.

    That it has taken the Russian government this long to sack Zurabov is astonishing. Most Russians would doubtless say that it is because Zurabov has high level patrons within the Russian power structure. Sacked in disgrace he has however now finally been, as the terse tone of the Kremlin’s announcement of his sacking – containing no word of thanks for his past work – makes all too clear.
     
    http://theduran.wpengine.com/kremlin-sacks-ambassador-kiev/
    , @Avery
    {... because the Kremlin doesn’t understand how public politics works. They couldn’t govern Russia in any way, except feudal,....}

    Very astute observation.

    btw: in an interview he gave some years back, Patrushev admitted that Moscow completely misread the situation in Ukraine and let the West take the initiative there.
    , @reiner Tor
    There are sizable Hungarian minorities in countries neighboring Hungary. There is a bullshit slogan that "the Hungarians in Romania/Slovakia/etc. should be a bridge to those countries", but obviously everybody understands how stupid that is. Hungary does engage the ethnic Hungarians in those countries, in fact, heavy nationalist pressure meant that even leftist governments tended to subsidize them. Did it help that, to size the biggest example, in Slovakia almost 10% of voters were ethnically Hungarian (and so inherently friendly to Hungary)? Of course not.

    First off, some of them didn't like the efforts of the motherland (which they perceived as overly patronizing or insufficient or whatever), so there was some counter-reaction even among the Hungarian minority. Then the more nationalistic of them didn't like (at least when there was a leftist government in Budapest) when Hungary managed to engage the Slovakian government in spite of some of their grievances. (I tend to think those grievances were legitimate, but my point only gets stronger if they weren't.)

    Well, the reaction of the Slovakian public was almost wholly negative. You can imagine the reasons: Hungary used to lay territorial claims to the areas of Slovakia with a majority Hungarian population (which is why they kept working hard on assimilating them, or else encouraging them to leave, especially after WW2, when hundreds of thousands, including some of my relatives, were deported to Hungary). You don't need to be a paranoid Slovakian nationalist to understand why Slovakians might object to Hungary supporting ethnic Hungarian organizations in Slovakia. Even if the counter-reaction wasn't always totally conscious, I'm sure that our support of ethnic Hungarian organizations and aspirations (which often included some form of territorial autonomy) did strengthen Slovakian nationalism, especially its anti-Hungarian manifestations. (Historical grievances and territorial disputes aside, Slovaks, by the way, are probably the people most similar culturally to Hungarians. It's equally true that a lot of Hungarians have some Slovak ancestors, including Hungary's national poet Petőfi, who was wholly or at least mostly of Slovak ancestry, though some previous schoolbooks wrongly attributed Serb ancestry to his father.) I'm sure that Hungary's relations with Slovakian Slovaks (90% of Slovak voters, and so the ones determining the composition of the government) would've been better in the absence of Hungarian support for the Hungarian minority there. (Of course, betraying our ethnic kin is not something I'm condoning, I'm merely stating that there was an obvious price to supporting them, and it's dishonest to say otherwise.)

    Finally, despite our best efforts, Slovakia's Hungarian minority is slowly disappearing due to assimilation (which is the strongest there among all the neighboring countries - see what I wrote above about the similarity of cultures, a point which, I think, is strongly applicable to the Ukrainian situation vs. its Russian minority), and also because of ethnic Hungarians leaving Slovakia (for Hungary until a decade ago, and since then for the rest of the EU).

    In light of this experience, I fail to see how cuddling ethnic Russian or pro-Russian organizations in Ukraine would've helped Russia. Yanukovich's party was a coalition of ethnic Russians, pro-Russian Ukrainians, and some Russian speaking Ukrainians who merely opposed Ukrainization policies out of convenience (because they didn't want to bother to learn another language), but otherwise weren't particularly pro-Russian. I'm sure that Russian support to ethnic Russians would've alienated at least some of the latter, and perhaps some from the other groups as well, while galvanizing anti-Russian nationalism in Ukraine. Given that roughly half of the population was more or less anti-Russian (as can be seen since the Orange Revolution), I fail to see how that would've helped. The "pro-Russia" side in Ukrainian politics was always (since Kuchma) pro-neutrality, because parts of that coalition were not particularly pro-Russia, and a pro-Russia position would've alienated them, so pro-Russia voters were forced to vote for what in essence was a pro-neutrality party.

    Another point, regarding Yanukovich, that as far as I know, he wasn't a politician handpicked from Russia. He was the designated successor of President Kuchma, he was a domestic product of the pro-Russia (pro-neutrality) side of Ukrainian politics. Does anyone know if there were other contenders for that position, and that he became the candidate of that camp because of Russian support given to him? I honestly don't know. But unless it can be shown that he was supported over a less kleptocratic (and so less bribable) candidate, I'll think that he was simply the guy Russia could deal with.

    As to the subsidies, you do have a point, but Putin merely inherited this policy from Yeltsin, and it's obvious (to me, at least) that changing it would've only led to further alienation of Ukraine (and maybe a Ukrainian NATO membership in the 00s?), so it was obviously not an option until Ukraine started to get hostile to Russia (after the Orange Revolution). You know, if I regularly subsidize you, you'll eventually think it's your birthright, and withdrawing those subsidies will make you bitter. That's not fair, but that's how human psychology works.
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  21. @Mitleser
    Keep in mind that this setback happened in his third term, but not primarily because of his policy in the third term. There was not much he could have done to prevent that during his third term, at most push back harder after it happened.

    The Crimea can be seen as a consolation prize, and a poisoned one, which locks Russia into a decades-long dispute with a vengeful Ukraine.
     
    What was the alternative to that?

    What primary interests does Russia have in Syria?
     
    Preventing another regime change because Russia would be one of the next targets, killing Jihadists from the Soviet space so that they cannot return, destroying the Western "Isolated Russia" narrative and better training for armed forces.

    The Crimea can be seen as a consolation prize, and a poisoned one, which locks Russia into a decades-long dispute with a vengeful Ukraine.

    What was the alternative to that?

    Back in February 2014: send the troops to Kiev instead of the Crimea to oversee the “transition of power” from Yanukovich, appoint some Russian spy as the new “acting president”, who will impose a permament state of emergency, dissolve the Rada, disperse the Maidan, exterminate pro-Western politicians.

    How’s that for an alternative? It’s a risky plan, with lots of things that could go wrong along the way, but control of Ukraine is vastly more important than control of Crimea. The Kremlin gave up on the Ukraine too quickly and too easily.

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    • Replies: @Mitleser

    How’s that for an alternative?
     
    Too late for that. Too many Ukrainians would be uncooperative and I am not talking just about Galicia.

    It’s a risky plan,with lots of things that could go wrong along the way, but control of Ukraine is vastly more important than control of Crimea.
     
    Exactly, it was too much of a gamble for them. Even just getting Crimea back was not without risks.
    At most, they could have established something like Republic of Ukraine - Donetsk government.
    Kremlin was not prepared for more.

    The Kremlin gave up on the Ukraine too quickly and too easily.
     
    Yes, but not in 2014. It did already happen in the 1990s.
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  22. @Stavros H
    Yes, but the victory over NATO in the Middle East is far more important than the Maidan (which is bound to implode anyway)

    As a Russian, I disagree. Middle East is not our turf, and Russia will not be in Syria for the long haul. Instead, it will be Iran that will inherit the fruits of “our victory” there. We are spending resources and good men to ensure future Iranian hegemony in the Levant – that’s pretty dumb.

    Our turf is Eastern Europe, and Ukraine is a country that we absolutely must dominate to have any claim at being a great power.

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  23. Mitleser says:
    @Felix Keverich
    Ukraine remained a battleground well into the 2010s, and even though the country formally became independent in 1991 didn't mean the relations had to become hostile.

    You know the thing I always wondered, how the heck did we (I'm Russian) spend 2 decades subsiding Ukraine to the tune of hundreds of billions of dollars and ended up in a situation where moron Yanukovich was the only Ukrainian politician willing to work with us?

    How the heck do you spend hundreds of billions, and get almost nothing (no political influence) in return? That was Putin's foreign policy on Ukrainian direction, and it imploded in 2014 in the most humiliating fashion.

    Lack of support for pro-Russian forces.
    Instead the Kremlin chose to support pragmatics who were not able to stand up to Ukrainian nationalists and not cut support when nationalists were in-charge.
    It was safer for Ukrainian politicians to appease Ukrainian nationalists than the Kremlin who would be cooperative anyway.

    Ukraine remained a battleground well into the 2010s, and even though the country formally became independent in 1991 didn’t mean the relations had to become hostile.

    But they were from the beginning hostile.
    Remember that the first Ukrainian president was a nationalist and there was no Crimea lease agreement until he was gone.

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    • Replies: @Felix Keverich

    Lack of support for pro-Russian forces.
    Instead the Kremlin chose to support pragmatics who were not able to stand up to Ukrainian nationalists and not cut support when nationalists were in-charge.
     
    My point exactly, except I wouldn't call Yanukovich a pragmatic, rather he was a "классово близкий" crook, whom the Kremlins could relate with.

    Let's face it: Putin fucked up, he failed to support pro-Russian forces, and that cost us the Ukraine.

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  24. Mitleser says:
    @Felix Keverich


    The Crimea can be seen as a consolation prize, and a poisoned one, which locks Russia into a decades-long dispute with a vengeful Ukraine.
     
    What was the alternative to that?
     
    Back in February 2014: send the troops to Kiev instead of the Crimea to oversee the "transition of power" from Yanukovich, appoint some Russian spy as the new "acting president", who will impose a permament state of emergency, dissolve the Rada, disperse the Maidan, exterminate pro-Western politicians.

    How's that for an alternative? It's a risky plan, with lots of things that could go wrong along the way, but control of Ukraine is vastly more important than control of Crimea. The Kremlin gave up on the Ukraine too quickly and too easily.

    How’s that for an alternative?

    Too late for that. Too many Ukrainians would be uncooperative and I am not talking just about Galicia.

    It’s a risky plan,with lots of things that could go wrong along the way, but control of Ukraine is vastly more important than control of Crimea.

    Exactly, it was too much of a gamble for them. Even just getting Crimea back was not without risks.
    At most, they could have established something like Republic of Ukraine – Donetsk government.
    Kremlin was not prepared for more.

    The Kremlin gave up on the Ukraine too quickly and too easily.

    Yes, but not in 2014. It did already happen in the 1990s.

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    • Replies: @Anatoly Karlin
    In the 1990s there were reasonably widespread expectations that Russia would soon or later reclaim the Novorossiya territories (Samuel Huntington quotes a Russian general saying that Eastern Ukraine would come crawling back in 10, 15 years in Clash of Civilizations).

    Even people such as AP (as he said recently) were skeptical about Ukraine's long-term capacity to hold on to those regions.

    But here we are. They have, essentially, won. And the chances this will be reversed are now less than 10%, I would say.

    Even just getting Crimea back was not without risks.
     
    Incidentally, Defense Minister Shoigu was against even that (according to Mikhail Zygar).
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  25. Anon says: • Disclaimer
    @Felix Keverich
    There was an estimated 7 million ethnic Russians in Ukraine + millions of Russified Ukrainians, but the Kremlin made no effort to mobilise them into a pro-Russian lobby. There were half-hearted attempts to bribe/corrupt individual Ukrainian politicians - it was a pathetic effort, and it was destined to fail.

    With assets like this (millions of pro-Russian voters, economic and cultural ties), how did we end up in a situation, where moron like Yanukovich became the linchpin of our entire policy in Ukraine? For me, it's just mind-boggling! The Kremlin was shockingly LAZY.

    strong deliberate push by a much stronger West, and the very strong pull of the same among the Ukrainian population.
     

    These things don't just happen. True, the West made a real effort to engage Ukrainian society and groom loyal leaders, but there was no corresponding pull in the opposite direction (despite the many advantages Russia had), because the Kremlin doesn't understand how public politics works. They couldn't govern Russia in any way, except feudal, they tried bringing this approach to the Ukraine and it didn't work.

    There was zero effort to engage Russia-friendly elements of Ukrainian society. What they tried to do instead is to establish a joint criminal enterprise with Mr Yanukovich. That was the essense of Putin's Ukrainian policy and it was pathetic.

    True, the West made a real effort to engage Ukrainian society and groom loyal leaders, but there was no corresponding pull in the opposite direction (despite the many advantages Russia had), because the Kremlin doesn’t understand how public politics works. They couldn’t govern Russia in any way, except feudal, they tried bringing this approach to the Ukraine and it didn’t work.

    Bolshevik please, it has nothing to do with feudalism, but the Kremlin’s strong preference for other governments and cooperation with them, even it is at the expense of the more cooperative parts of the society. That is statism.

    There was zero effort to engage Russia-friendly elements of Ukrainian society.

    That is what you get for not sending your best.

    Zurabov is deservedly one of the most criticised officials in the Russian government. Unlike the great majority of Russian ambassadors he is not a career diplomat but was a former liberal politician who as Russia’s minister of health in the mid 2000s tried to introduce market mechanisms to Russia’s health system, which backfired earning him a public reprimand from none other than Putin himself. In 2009 he was sent to Kiev as ambassador in what appears to have been intended as a form of political exile.

    The Kremlin has in the past had the unfortunate habit of treating the vital diplomatic post of ambassador to Kiev as a sort of dustbin for failed Moscow politicians. Zurabov’s predecessor as ambassador, Yeltsin’s former prime minister Viktor Chernomydin, was another example. The lack of strong Russian representatives in Kiev has proved disastrous and is key to understanding why Moscow was so completely unprepared for the Maidan coup, and has had so much difficulty shaping events on the ground in Ukraine in its own interests both before the coup and since.

    Suffice to say that Zurabov was nowhere to be seen during the Maidan protests of 2013-2014, which led to the overthrow of Ukraine’s President Yanukovych. Nor has he played any significant role in the Ukrainian conflict since. Throughout the whole history of the Ukrainian conflict, because of his passivity and incompetence, Moscow’s voice in Kiev has been muffled or silent.

    That it has taken the Russian government this long to sack Zurabov is astonishing. Most Russians would doubtless say that it is because Zurabov has high level patrons within the Russian power structure. Sacked in disgrace he has however now finally been, as the terse tone of the Kremlin’s announcement of his sacking – containing no word of thanks for his past work – makes all too clear.

    http://theduran.wpengine.com/kremlin-sacks-ambassador-kiev/

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    • Replies: @Felix Keverich

    Kremlin’s strong preference for other governments and cooperation with them, even it is at the expense of the more cooperative parts of the society. That is statism.
     
    On the contrary, this is what feudalism is about:

    You only do business with a Sovereign, but never with his vassals directly, because dealing with his vassals directly would violate the rights of a Sovereign.

    That's classic feudal mentality! The people who govern Russia have it.

    So the Kremlin made sure to get Yanukovich embroiled in their shady corruption schemes, but made no effort to foster a popular pro-Russian movement in the country in large part because their aversion to public politics, but also for fear of offending Yanukovich! It would be funny, if the outcome wasn't so tragic for Russia's interests in Ukraine.

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  26. Randal says:
    @Felix Keverich
    Putin is a solid, if mediocre leader. Not a disaster, like the drunkard Yeltsin, but hardly inspiring.

    The loss of (most of) the Ukraine in 2014 was HUGE defeat for Russia, you don't need to be a Russian nationalist to recognise it.

    Putin is a solid, if mediocre leader. Not a disaster, like the drunkard Yeltsin, but hardly inspiring.

    “Not a disaster” is pretty inspiring, if you ask me, in a national leader. But then again I live in one of those countries setting the bar so remarkably low for national leadership recently, as reiner tor pointed out above and Verymuchalive reinforced.

    The loss of (most of) the Ukraine in 2014 was HUGE defeat for Russia, you don’t need to be a Russian nationalist to recognise it.

    You are right of course that Maidan was a huge disaster for Russia and I suppose the established leader has to take responsibility for that. I just view it in an overall context in which Russia has been effectively under continuous pressure by immense forces in the US and EU since the 1990s, and Ukraine was part of that – the Maidan did not come out of the blue but occurred in the context of generally rising Ukrainian nationalism encouraged by massive US and EU interference and the still hugely influential post-communist hangover. If Russia had not been managed pretty well post-Yeltsin, NATO would be in Kiev and Georgia and those countries would be part of the effort to push into Belarus and even Russia. Remember that a couple of years prior to Maidan, the colour revolution focus was in Russia itself.

    From my perspective, the Maidan defeat is more a reflection of the immense forces ranged against Russia than it is on the competence of the Russian leadership. For sure, there’s a risk of falling into excuse-making there, and I absolutely don’t doubt that there are many things that could have been done better. But the flipside of excuse-making is second-guessing with the benefit of hindsight.

    It’s not as though the alternative to Maidan would have been a warm and friendly fraternal relationship between Russia and Ukraine. Most likely there would have been a victory for anti-Russian nationalists in the elections coming up anyway and another period of confrontation as in the “orange” years. And with that democratic legitimacy and no trigger to set off secession in the east, quite likely that would have meant Ukraine joining the EU, which ultimately means NATO a few years down the line.

    Plenty of things that are “unthinkable” now could have been perfectly likely if events had gone differently.

    Your proposal to send troops to Kiev in 2014 would quite likely have resulted in a massive anti-Russian backlash in Europe, in open war in Kiev with massive cross-border assistance to Ukrainian nationalists, and probably in Russia’s wholesale exclusion from the US/EU financial system. It would have played right into the hands of the Russophobe forces in the US and EU.

    In the long run, partition of the Ukraine still seems like the only plausible long term solution, and itself not an easy or comfortable solution at that.

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    • Replies: @Felix Keverich

    Your proposal to send troops to Kiev in 2014 would quite likely have resulted in a massive anti-Russian backlash in Europe, in open war in Kiev with massive cross-border assistance to Ukrainian nationalists, and probably in Russia’s wholesale exclusion from the US/EU financial system.
     
    I'm not at all sure this would have been the likely outcome. Is forcing a counter-coup really more objectionable in Western eyes than annexing a territory?

    The war happened anyway, expect we're not just fighting some Ukrainian nationalists (killing them is fine by me). We're also fighting the Ukrainian army...full of conscripts from Eastern Ukraine! This really makes me rage at the utter stupidity of the Kremlins.
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  27. @reiner Tor
    The Maidan was caused by a combination of a strong deliberate push by a much stronger West, and the very strong pull of the same among the Ukrainian population. Yes, Putin lost there, but it’s like saying that because Napoleon eventually lost, he wasn’t the greatest commander of the time. “Waterloo was more important than all the other battles combined.”

    I don’t think it was an extraordinary strong push by the West – yes, Nuland’s cookies are a meme, but they hardly scale to the $15 billion “push” that Russia had just exerted to draw Ukraine into Eurasec – nor was there a particularly strong pull by Ukrainians – even as of February, a slight majority were against the Maidan in net terms (though critically, not in the capital).

    Russia has basically zero soft power and as Felix, I believe it correctly, points out, the main avenue of influence it can effectively (or “effectively”) practice is crude bribery, which might work for a time with the sort of two bit kleptocrats typical of the region (Yanukovych being a prime example), but buys no true loyalty and only fosters condescension in their civil societies.

    PS. The fact that the Russian ambassador to Ukraine stayed in his post for several months after his epochal failure there is very telling about the Russian state’s degree of concern about competence.

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    • Replies: @AP

    even as of February, a slight majority were against the Maidan in net terms (though critically, not in the capital).
     
    To be precise, it was 40% supported Maidan, 23% supported the government, 32% supported neither side:

    http://www.kiis.com.ua/?lang=ukr&cat=reports&id=231&page=10&y=2014

    If it were an election, turnout would be 63% and Maidan would win 63.5% to 36.5%.

    In Central Ukraine (where Kiev is) it was 51% supported Maidan, 11% supported the government, 33% supported neither side. Kiev tends to be a little more nationalistic than the rest of central Ukraine so the city's numbers would be skewed further in favor of Maidan.

    , @reiner Tor
    Regarding the anti-Maidan sentiment in Ukraine until February 2014, I think AP's reply answers it. Regarding Felix's retrospect proposition of "engaging pro-Russia elements in Ukrainian society", I explained to him why I don't think it would've helped at all. (Though now that Ukraine is lost for good, they might start it at least - in part that's what they did with the Novorossiya project.)

    I also think that soft power is not something that a country can easily develop. The West looks cooler than anybody else, for example, and this will stay so for a long while (perhaps even a century or more) after it loses any technological or economic or military edge over the rest of the world. This is the same reason sophisticated Americans have always found Europe cooler than their own country, which looks nouveau riche in comparison. So even if Russia suddenly became richer than the US, it would still seem parvenu for a while. Putin can do nothing about it.

    Another part of Western soft power is that it is (together with its East Asian allies) still richer than anybody else. Putin could've done a bit more to help his economy, to be sure, but he did reasonably well.

    Then there's the problem of rule of law: with the Magnitsky Act (where the supposed criminality of certain individuals is written into the law, and they're unable to challenge it at a court of law...) and similar thuggery, the West might become over time less ruled by laws and more by who/whom logic ideologies or individuals, but it's a long way, and perceptions lag this. So, a lot of Russian or Ukrainian oligarchs park their money in London or New York, because they think it's safer there, but no American or Ukrainian oligarchs park their money in Russia, because they think it's safe enough at home but unsafe in Russia. (OK, some Ukrainian oligarchs do have business interests in Russia, like I think Poroshenko himself, but that's not exactly the same thing.) This will mean that the West could easily pressure the Ukrainian oligarchs and politicians by threatening to freeze their accounts (probably worth several billions of dollars). Russia had to outspend that threat (and probably was unable to, as seen from how Ukrainian oligarchs mostly sided against Yanukovich in the end), which cost the West nothing. There was nothing Putin could've done to avoid this asymmetry. Similarly, a travel ban issued by Russia is not nearly as threatening, as one issued by the US and the EU, because a lot of people want to travel to the US and the EU, whereas Russia is not a common travel destination. Oligarchs don't send their children to Russian private schools or business schools, instead to British, Swiss, American, etc. institutions. It's also asymmetric even from a business point of view, like being unable to do business with Western banks or companies is a way more serious threat to most than losing the ability to do business with Russia. (OK, for some Ukrainian oligarchs Russia was an important source of income. But at least there was always a credible possibility of making up for lost Russian revenue by starting business relations with the West.) It's basically barring to do business with over half of world GDP (or WDP or whatever it's called). The threat of barring them from entering those countries (and so the inability to enjoy their wealth there, or educate their children there, etc.) devalues their wealth instantly, something which Russia will need to outspend, whereas it cost the West nothing.

    Visa-free travel offered by the EU (with the later prospect of allowing Ukrainians to work there - something which wasn't even promised, but Ukrainians understood, rightly or wrongly, to be inherent) is inherently worth more for most Ukrainians than a threat of revoking that right by Russia. (It wasn't even threatened at the time, because obviously it would've alienated Ukrainians further.)

    I heard from some Hungarians (and read on some Hungarian websites) a decade ago that recent Russian films are actually getting pretty good, almost (or fully) Hollywood-level stuff (judged by entertainment value). (I saw some parts, unfortunately in Russian only, of a very good Chechen War movie produced by Berezovsky, the Russian title was something like Tchistilishche or something similar, and it means I think Purgatory, but I'm not totally sure. A military historian showed it, and said that at least the parts he showed us were quite realistic, I think he said that even the Estonian snipers that were shown in the movie might have been real.) Still nobody is watching Russian movies in Hungary, though I keep hearing of grandiose and interesting productions. I'm not sure anything could be done to change that - at least in Hungary, I don't think they were getting a bad press. (Though I mostly heard about war movies, and sometimes the pro-Soviet tilt was criticized, but mostly overlooked as something to be expected and definitely not worse than the American self-worship in their war movies. I guess other good movies are getting produced in Russia, too, only they are not as interesting to Hungarian film critics and bloggers? Not sure.) This is another aspect of soft power that Putin won't be able to change.

    Then there's democracy. In Hungary (and I'd think in Ukraine, too) people are obviously suspicious of propaganda (or what they perceive as propaganda) that there's more democracy in Russia than in the US or EU. And the fact that the US and EU are criticizing Russia's democracy deficit means that you'll have to choose - either you think Russia is a tyranny and the US/EU are not, or vice versa. (OK, you can think both are tyrannies in their own ways.) I cannot see how such entrenched perceptions could easily be changed, especially when it's obvious that Putin's regime is not very democratic.

    Or you can argue that Western style liberal democracy is inherently bad, as some do here, but then again, that's something Hungarians for example are quite suspicious of, because we have already had such official opinions regarding Western style liberal democracies already during WW2 and then during the Cold War, and both times we happened to be on the losing side. When Western style liberal democracies have had a winning streak for a century (two world wars and a cold war, and even in the post-cold war world, NATO and the EU are constantly expanding with countries voluntarily joining them), it's difficult to argue that they are rotten to the core. Even if we know they are.

    So the West had much larger soft power in Ukraine than Russia, and that was something that Putin inherited from Yeltsin (or actually, from the Soviet leaders and even perhaps the Romanovs), so there was nothing he could do about it.

    Sorry for the overly long comments.
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  28. Randal says:
    @Anatoly Karlin
    There aren't that many natural monopolies.

    As Felix I believe rightly points out, the Maidan was a setback that frankly dwarfs everything else. The Crimea can be seen as a consolation prize, and a poisoned one, which locks Russia into a decades-long dispute with a vengeful Ukraine.

    What primary interests does Russia have in Syria?

    As Felix I believe rightly points out, the Maidan was a setback that frankly dwarfs everything else. The Crimea can be seen as a consolation prize, and a poisoned one, which locks Russia into a decades-long dispute with a vengeful Ukraine.

    The alternative to the Maidan was not a union of fraternal love between the Ukraine and Russia. There was going to be trouble and a big push to draw the Ukraine into the EU and inevitably afterwards NATO, anyway. In a way, perhaps the Maidan just brought things to a head more quickly.

    And extracting Crimea from the Ukraine is in itself a huge step forwards, since Crimea was always going to be an unending source of conflict between the Ukraine and Russia anyway (and a huge additional temptation for the US to try to draw the Ukraine into its sphere).

    What primary interests does Russia have in Syria?

    The primary interest was defeating Russia’s main threat the US and preventing another Yugoslavia, especially considering the chosen weapon of the US in Syria was sunni jihadism, which was the last thing Russia needed to see further inspired.

    There have been plenty of collateral benefits as well – the wider perception of Russia has been transformed, mostly for the better (outside the parties with a direct interest – Saudi and Israeli lobbies etc, and the lumpen establishment propaganda consumers of the US sphere) as a result of success in Syria. Even amongst some of the alienated groups, there is at least a renewed respect for Russian military capabilities.

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  29. @Mitleser

    How’s that for an alternative?
     
    Too late for that. Too many Ukrainians would be uncooperative and I am not talking just about Galicia.

    It’s a risky plan,with lots of things that could go wrong along the way, but control of Ukraine is vastly more important than control of Crimea.
     
    Exactly, it was too much of a gamble for them. Even just getting Crimea back was not without risks.
    At most, they could have established something like Republic of Ukraine - Donetsk government.
    Kremlin was not prepared for more.

    The Kremlin gave up on the Ukraine too quickly and too easily.
     
    Yes, but not in 2014. It did already happen in the 1990s.

    In the 1990s there were reasonably widespread expectations that Russia would soon or later reclaim the Novorossiya territories (Samuel Huntington quotes a Russian general saying that Eastern Ukraine would come crawling back in 10, 15 years in Clash of Civilizations).

    Even people such as AP (as he said recently) were skeptical about Ukraine’s long-term capacity to hold on to those regions.

    But here we are. They have, essentially, won. And the chances this will be reversed are now less than 10%, I would say.

    Even just getting Crimea back was not without risks.

    Incidentally, Defense Minister Shoigu was against even that (according to Mikhail Zygar).

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    • Replies: @Randal

    But here we are. They have, essentially, won. And the chances this will be reversed are now less than 10%, I would say.
     
    You're far too defeatist here, I think. A reversal requires building "pull" from Russia to exceed EU "pull" in the other direction (which hopefully will be in decline relative to its highs since the 1990s), whilst allowing inevitable conflicts within Ukraine to take effect, in the context of Kiev mismanagement. That's going to take decades, but was always going to take decades. It couldn't even begin until the mess of the 1990s had been sorted out.
    , @Mitleser

    In the 1990s there were reasonably widespread expectations that Russia would soon or later reclaim the Novorossiya territories (Samuel Huntington quotes a Russian general saying that Eastern Ukraine would come crawling back in 10, 15 years in Clash of Civilizations).
     
    It was not a reasonable expectations, at least not with the post-Soviet Russian elite who showed no interest in reclaiming Novorossiya, not even preventing Kiev from successfully pushing back against Crimean autonomy.
    , @5371
    Why would anyone believe an enemy agent like Zygar about anything?
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  30. @Stavros H
    Yes, but the victory over NATO in the Middle East is far more important than the Maidan (which is bound to implode anyway)

    I also agree with Felix Keverich here.

    Syria has some marginal value as cheap training for the Russian AF, for Khmeimim (presumably nice to have, but not exactly critical), and perhaps as a potential bargaining chip with the US on other questions – such as the Ukraine.

    But ultimately:

    (1) As Putin himself said sometime around 2012, i.e. before the intervention, Syria was not important to Russia. He specifically noted that Bashar al-Assad had visited Paris far more frequently than Moscow before the war. And yet today the Western Russophiles, most of whom would have drawn up blanks when asked about who the Alawites were several years ago, are now falling over themselves hailing our Syrian bratushki and Russia’s vital interests there.

    (2) There is nothing stopping Assad giving Russia the finger even if the war is fully won and he reclaims control over all of Syria. Certainly Russia doesn’t have the economic strength to cement its political influence there, at least unless it goes the way of offering multi-billion reconstruction loans that are unlikely to be paid back (I am actually half expecting that to eventually happen).

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    • Replies: @Mitleser

    As Putin himself said sometime around 2012, i.e. before the intervention, Syria was not important to Russia.
     
    It is not Syria that is important, it is the Syrian Civil War which was just starting.

    Preventing another regime change because Russia would be one of the next targets, killing Jihadists from the Soviet space so that they cannot return, destroying the Western “Isolated Russia” narrative and better training for armed forces.
     
    In 2012, Western regime change policy was an issue, but not as much as after 2014. Maidan and new plans for an unilateral intervention woke them up.
    In 2012, Syria was not such a magnet for foreign jihadists. They were not entrenched in Syria at that point.
    In 2012, Western attempts to isolate Russia were more limited.
    All of that could be countered with an intervention in this civil war.

    There is nothing stopping Assad giving Russia the finger even if the war is fully won and he reclaims control over all of Syria.
     
    He won't reclaim control over all of Syria and he needs Russia to limit Iranian domination in Syria.
    Previously, Turkey was a balancing factor, but Turks won't be trusted after their betrayal in 2011/2012..

    Certainly Russia doesn’t have the economic strength to cement its political influence there
     
    No need for that. Damascus needs Russia more than Russia needs them.
    Russia offers diplomatic and military options that the Iranians are not able or willing to counter with their own.
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  31. @Anon

    True, the West made a real effort to engage Ukrainian society and groom loyal leaders, but there was no corresponding pull in the opposite direction (despite the many advantages Russia had), because the Kremlin doesn’t understand how public politics works. They couldn’t govern Russia in any way, except feudal, they tried bringing this approach to the Ukraine and it didn’t work.
     
    Bolshevik please, it has nothing to do with feudalism, but the Kremlin's strong preference for other governments and cooperation with them, even it is at the expense of the more cooperative parts of the society. That is statism.

    There was zero effort to engage Russia-friendly elements of Ukrainian society.
     
    That is what you get for not sending your best.

    Zurabov is deservedly one of the most criticised officials in the Russian government. Unlike the great majority of Russian ambassadors he is not a career diplomat but was a former liberal politician who as Russia’s minister of health in the mid 2000s tried to introduce market mechanisms to Russia’s health system, which backfired earning him a public reprimand from none other than Putin himself. In 2009 he was sent to Kiev as ambassador in what appears to have been intended as a form of political exile.

    The Kremlin has in the past had the unfortunate habit of treating the vital diplomatic post of ambassador to Kiev as a sort of dustbin for failed Moscow politicians. Zurabov’s predecessor as ambassador, Yeltsin’s former prime minister Viktor Chernomydin, was another example. The lack of strong Russian representatives in Kiev has proved disastrous and is key to understanding why Moscow was so completely unprepared for the Maidan coup, and has had so much difficulty shaping events on the ground in Ukraine in its own interests both before the coup and since.

    Suffice to say that Zurabov was nowhere to be seen during the Maidan protests of 2013-2014, which led to the overthrow of Ukraine’s President Yanukovych. Nor has he played any significant role in the Ukrainian conflict since. Throughout the whole history of the Ukrainian conflict, because of his passivity and incompetence, Moscow’s voice in Kiev has been muffled or silent.

    That it has taken the Russian government this long to sack Zurabov is astonishing. Most Russians would doubtless say that it is because Zurabov has high level patrons within the Russian power structure. Sacked in disgrace he has however now finally been, as the terse tone of the Kremlin’s announcement of his sacking – containing no word of thanks for his past work – makes all too clear.
     
    http://theduran.wpengine.com/kremlin-sacks-ambassador-kiev/

    Kremlin’s strong preference for other governments and cooperation with them, even it is at the expense of the more cooperative parts of the society. That is statism.

    On the contrary, this is what feudalism is about:

    You only do business with a Sovereign, but never with his vassals directly, because dealing with his vassals directly would violate the rights of a Sovereign.

    That’s classic feudal mentality! The people who govern Russia have it.

    So the Kremlin made sure to get Yanukovich embroiled in their shady corruption schemes, but made no effort to foster a popular pro-Russian movement in the country in large part because their aversion to public politics, but also for fear of offending Yanukovich! It would be funny, if the outcome wasn’t so tragic for Russia’s interests in Ukraine.

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  32. Randal says:
    @Anatoly Karlin
    In the 1990s there were reasonably widespread expectations that Russia would soon or later reclaim the Novorossiya territories (Samuel Huntington quotes a Russian general saying that Eastern Ukraine would come crawling back in 10, 15 years in Clash of Civilizations).

    Even people such as AP (as he said recently) were skeptical about Ukraine's long-term capacity to hold on to those regions.

    But here we are. They have, essentially, won. And the chances this will be reversed are now less than 10%, I would say.

    Even just getting Crimea back was not without risks.
     
    Incidentally, Defense Minister Shoigu was against even that (according to Mikhail Zygar).

    But here we are. They have, essentially, won. And the chances this will be reversed are now less than 10%, I would say.

    You’re far too defeatist here, I think. A reversal requires building “pull” from Russia to exceed EU “pull” in the other direction (which hopefully will be in decline relative to its highs since the 1990s), whilst allowing inevitable conflicts within Ukraine to take effect, in the context of Kiev mismanagement. That’s going to take decades, but was always going to take decades. It couldn’t even begin until the mess of the 1990s had been sorted out.

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  33. Avery says:
    @Felix Keverich
    There was an estimated 7 million ethnic Russians in Ukraine + millions of Russified Ukrainians, but the Kremlin made no effort to mobilise them into a pro-Russian lobby. There were half-hearted attempts to bribe/corrupt individual Ukrainian politicians - it was a pathetic effort, and it was destined to fail.

    With assets like this (millions of pro-Russian voters, economic and cultural ties), how did we end up in a situation, where moron like Yanukovich became the linchpin of our entire policy in Ukraine? For me, it's just mind-boggling! The Kremlin was shockingly LAZY.

    strong deliberate push by a much stronger West, and the very strong pull of the same among the Ukrainian population.
     

    These things don't just happen. True, the West made a real effort to engage Ukrainian society and groom loyal leaders, but there was no corresponding pull in the opposite direction (despite the many advantages Russia had), because the Kremlin doesn't understand how public politics works. They couldn't govern Russia in any way, except feudal, they tried bringing this approach to the Ukraine and it didn't work.

    There was zero effort to engage Russia-friendly elements of Ukrainian society. What they tried to do instead is to establish a joint criminal enterprise with Mr Yanukovich. That was the essense of Putin's Ukrainian policy and it was pathetic.

    {… because the Kremlin doesn’t understand how public politics works. They couldn’t govern Russia in any way, except feudal,….}

    Very astute observation.

    btw: in an interview he gave some years back, Patrushev admitted that Moscow completely misread the situation in Ukraine and let the West take the initiative there.

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  34. @Mitleser
    Lack of support for pro-Russian forces.
    Instead the Kremlin chose to support pragmatics who were not able to stand up to Ukrainian nationalists and not cut support when nationalists were in-charge.
    It was safer for Ukrainian politicians to appease Ukrainian nationalists than the Kremlin who would be cooperative anyway.

    Ukraine remained a battleground well into the 2010s, and even though the country formally became independent in 1991 didn’t mean the relations had to become hostile.
     
    But they were from the beginning hostile.
    Remember that the first Ukrainian president was a nationalist and there was no Crimea lease agreement until he was gone.

    Lack of support for pro-Russian forces.
    Instead the Kremlin chose to support pragmatics who were not able to stand up to Ukrainian nationalists and not cut support when nationalists were in-charge.

    My point exactly, except I wouldn’t call Yanukovich a pragmatic, rather he was a “классово близкий” crook, whom the Kremlins could relate with.

    Let’s face it: Putin fucked up, he failed to support pro-Russian forces, and that cost us the Ukraine.

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    • Replies: @Mitleser
    The late/post-Soviet elite in Russia is to blame for that, not just Putin in particular.
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  35. Mitleser says:
    @Anatoly Karlin
    In the 1990s there were reasonably widespread expectations that Russia would soon or later reclaim the Novorossiya territories (Samuel Huntington quotes a Russian general saying that Eastern Ukraine would come crawling back in 10, 15 years in Clash of Civilizations).

    Even people such as AP (as he said recently) were skeptical about Ukraine's long-term capacity to hold on to those regions.

    But here we are. They have, essentially, won. And the chances this will be reversed are now less than 10%, I would say.

    Even just getting Crimea back was not without risks.
     
    Incidentally, Defense Minister Shoigu was against even that (according to Mikhail Zygar).

    In the 1990s there were reasonably widespread expectations that Russia would soon or later reclaim the Novorossiya territories (Samuel Huntington quotes a Russian general saying that Eastern Ukraine would come crawling back in 10, 15 years in Clash of Civilizations).

    It was not a reasonable expectations, at least not with the post-Soviet Russian elite who showed no interest in reclaiming Novorossiya, not even preventing Kiev from successfully pushing back against Crimean autonomy.

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  36. Mitleser says:
    @Felix Keverich

    Lack of support for pro-Russian forces.
    Instead the Kremlin chose to support pragmatics who were not able to stand up to Ukrainian nationalists and not cut support when nationalists were in-charge.
     
    My point exactly, except I wouldn't call Yanukovich a pragmatic, rather he was a "классово близкий" crook, whom the Kremlins could relate with.

    Let's face it: Putin fucked up, he failed to support pro-Russian forces, and that cost us the Ukraine.

    The late/post-Soviet elite in Russia is to blame for that, not just Putin in particular.

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  37. Mitleser says:
    @Anatoly Karlin
    I also agree with Felix Keverich here.

    Syria has some marginal value as cheap training for the Russian AF, for Khmeimim (presumably nice to have, but not exactly critical), and perhaps as a potential bargaining chip with the US on other questions - such as the Ukraine.

    But ultimately:

    (1) As Putin himself said sometime around 2012, i.e. before the intervention, Syria was not important to Russia. He specifically noted that Bashar al-Assad had visited Paris far more frequently than Moscow before the war. And yet today the Western Russophiles, most of whom would have drawn up blanks when asked about who the Alawites were several years ago, are now falling over themselves hailing our Syrian bratushki and Russia's vital interests there.

    (2) There is nothing stopping Assad giving Russia the finger even if the war is fully won and he reclaims control over all of Syria. Certainly Russia doesn't have the economic strength to cement its political influence there, at least unless it goes the way of offering multi-billion reconstruction loans that are unlikely to be paid back (I am actually half expecting that to eventually happen).

    As Putin himself said sometime around 2012, i.e. before the intervention, Syria was not important to Russia.

    It is not Syria that is important, it is the Syrian Civil War which was just starting.

    Preventing another regime change because Russia would be one of the next targets, killing Jihadists from the Soviet space so that they cannot return, destroying the Western “Isolated Russia” narrative and better training for armed forces.

    In 2012, Western regime change policy was an issue, but not as much as after 2014. Maidan and new plans for an unilateral intervention woke them up.
    In 2012, Syria was not such a magnet for foreign jihadists. They were not entrenched in Syria at that point.
    In 2012, Western attempts to isolate Russia were more limited.
    All of that could be countered with an intervention in this civil war.

    There is nothing stopping Assad giving Russia the finger even if the war is fully won and he reclaims control over all of Syria.

    He won’t reclaim control over all of Syria and he needs Russia to limit Iranian domination in Syria.
    Previously, Turkey was a balancing factor, but Turks won’t be trusted after their betrayal in 2011/2012..

    Certainly Russia doesn’t have the economic strength to cement its political influence there

    No need for that. Damascus needs Russia more than Russia needs them.
    Russia offers diplomatic and military options that the Iranians are not able or willing to counter with their own.

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  38. @Randal

    Putin is a solid, if mediocre leader. Not a disaster, like the drunkard Yeltsin, but hardly inspiring.
     
    "Not a disaster" is pretty inspiring, if you ask me, in a national leader. But then again I live in one of those countries setting the bar so remarkably low for national leadership recently, as reiner tor pointed out above and Verymuchalive reinforced.

    The loss of (most of) the Ukraine in 2014 was HUGE defeat for Russia, you don’t need to be a Russian nationalist to recognise it.
     
    You are right of course that Maidan was a huge disaster for Russia and I suppose the established leader has to take responsibility for that. I just view it in an overall context in which Russia has been effectively under continuous pressure by immense forces in the US and EU since the 1990s, and Ukraine was part of that - the Maidan did not come out of the blue but occurred in the context of generally rising Ukrainian nationalism encouraged by massive US and EU interference and the still hugely influential post-communist hangover. If Russia had not been managed pretty well post-Yeltsin, NATO would be in Kiev and Georgia and those countries would be part of the effort to push into Belarus and even Russia. Remember that a couple of years prior to Maidan, the colour revolution focus was in Russia itself.

    From my perspective, the Maidan defeat is more a reflection of the immense forces ranged against Russia than it is on the competence of the Russian leadership. For sure, there's a risk of falling into excuse-making there, and I absolutely don't doubt that there are many things that could have been done better. But the flipside of excuse-making is second-guessing with the benefit of hindsight.

    It's not as though the alternative to Maidan would have been a warm and friendly fraternal relationship between Russia and Ukraine. Most likely there would have been a victory for anti-Russian nationalists in the elections coming up anyway and another period of confrontation as in the "orange" years. And with that democratic legitimacy and no trigger to set off secession in the east, quite likely that would have meant Ukraine joining the EU, which ultimately means NATO a few years down the line.

    Plenty of things that are "unthinkable" now could have been perfectly likely if events had gone differently.

    Your proposal to send troops to Kiev in 2014 would quite likely have resulted in a massive anti-Russian backlash in Europe, in open war in Kiev with massive cross-border assistance to Ukrainian nationalists, and probably in Russia's wholesale exclusion from the US/EU financial system. It would have played right into the hands of the Russophobe forces in the US and EU.

    In the long run, partition of the Ukraine still seems like the only plausible long term solution, and itself not an easy or comfortable solution at that.

    Your proposal to send troops to Kiev in 2014 would quite likely have resulted in a massive anti-Russian backlash in Europe, in open war in Kiev with massive cross-border assistance to Ukrainian nationalists, and probably in Russia’s wholesale exclusion from the US/EU financial system.

    I’m not at all sure this would have been the likely outcome. Is forcing a counter-coup really more objectionable in Western eyes than annexing a territory?

    The war happened anyway, expect we’re not just fighting some Ukrainian nationalists (killing them is fine by me). We’re also fighting the Ukrainian army…full of conscripts from Eastern Ukraine! This really makes me rage at the utter stupidity of the Kremlins.

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    • Replies: @Randal

    I’m not at all sure this would have been the likely outcome.
     
    Well, like most counterfactuals I suppose it's a judgement call, about which reasonable men can agree to disagree.

    Is forcing a counter-coup really more objectionable in Western eyes than annexing a territory?
     
    Imo, absolutely so, in particular if it involved the introduction of troops.

    As it was, there was a strong push for more direct measures against Russia, and after Crimea and the Donbass a big propaganda campaign based upon "Russian invasion" and supposed Russian plans and intentions to occupy the rest of the Ukraine, but there was always just about enough truth on our side for those of us pushing back against it to defeat the worst claims and proposals. Russian troops in Kiev would have undercut or silenced most of us, and the political elites here would have felt safe to go much further.

    I do think it was quite a close run thing.

    The war happened anyway, expect we’re not just fighting some Ukrainian nationalists (killing them is fine by me). We’re also fighting the Ukrainian army…full of conscripts from Eastern Ukraine! This really makes me rage at the utter stupidity of the Kremlins.
     
    It's not a great situation, but it's a long, long way from the worst possible.
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  39. Randal says:
    @Felix Keverich

    Your proposal to send troops to Kiev in 2014 would quite likely have resulted in a massive anti-Russian backlash in Europe, in open war in Kiev with massive cross-border assistance to Ukrainian nationalists, and probably in Russia’s wholesale exclusion from the US/EU financial system.
     
    I'm not at all sure this would have been the likely outcome. Is forcing a counter-coup really more objectionable in Western eyes than annexing a territory?

    The war happened anyway, expect we're not just fighting some Ukrainian nationalists (killing them is fine by me). We're also fighting the Ukrainian army...full of conscripts from Eastern Ukraine! This really makes me rage at the utter stupidity of the Kremlins.

    I’m not at all sure this would have been the likely outcome.

    Well, like most counterfactuals I suppose it’s a judgement call, about which reasonable men can agree to disagree.

    Is forcing a counter-coup really more objectionable in Western eyes than annexing a territory?

    Imo, absolutely so, in particular if it involved the introduction of troops.

    As it was, there was a strong push for more direct measures against Russia, and after Crimea and the Donbass a big propaganda campaign based upon “Russian invasion” and supposed Russian plans and intentions to occupy the rest of the Ukraine, but there was always just about enough truth on our side for those of us pushing back against it to defeat the worst claims and proposals. Russian troops in Kiev would have undercut or silenced most of us, and the political elites here would have felt safe to go much further.

    I do think it was quite a close run thing.

    The war happened anyway, expect we’re not just fighting some Ukrainian nationalists (killing them is fine by me). We’re also fighting the Ukrainian army…full of conscripts from Eastern Ukraine! This really makes me rage at the utter stupidity of the Kremlins.

    It’s not a great situation, but it’s a long, long way from the worst possible.

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  40. AP says:
    @Anatoly Karlin
    I don't think it was an extraordinary strong push by the West - yes, Nuland's cookies are a meme, but they hardly scale to the $15 billion "push" that Russia had just exerted to draw Ukraine into Eurasec - nor was there a particularly strong pull by Ukrainians - even as of February, a slight majority were against the Maidan in net terms (though critically, not in the capital).

    Russia has basically zero soft power and as Felix, I believe it correctly, points out, the main avenue of influence it can effectively (or "effectively") practice is crude bribery, which might work for a time with the sort of two bit kleptocrats typical of the region (Yanukovych being a prime example), but buys no true loyalty and only fosters condescension in their civil societies.

    PS. The fact that the Russian ambassador to Ukraine stayed in his post for several months after his epochal failure there is very telling about the Russian state's degree of concern about competence.

    even as of February, a slight majority were against the Maidan in net terms (though critically, not in the capital).

    To be precise, it was 40% supported Maidan, 23% supported the government, 32% supported neither side:

    http://www.kiis.com.ua/?lang=ukr&cat=reports&id=231&page=10&y=2014

    If it were an election, turnout would be 63% and Maidan would win 63.5% to 36.5%.

    In Central Ukraine (where Kiev is) it was 51% supported Maidan, 11% supported the government, 33% supported neither side. Kiev tends to be a little more nationalistic than the rest of central Ukraine so the city’s numbers would be skewed further in favor of Maidan.

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    • Replies: @Anatoly Karlin
    Okay, I was thinking of this poll, though admittedly that was in late January.

    http://rb.com.ua/EMobl_1.JPG
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  41. @Felix Keverich
    There was an estimated 7 million ethnic Russians in Ukraine + millions of Russified Ukrainians, but the Kremlin made no effort to mobilise them into a pro-Russian lobby. There were half-hearted attempts to bribe/corrupt individual Ukrainian politicians - it was a pathetic effort, and it was destined to fail.

    With assets like this (millions of pro-Russian voters, economic and cultural ties), how did we end up in a situation, where moron like Yanukovich became the linchpin of our entire policy in Ukraine? For me, it's just mind-boggling! The Kremlin was shockingly LAZY.

    strong deliberate push by a much stronger West, and the very strong pull of the same among the Ukrainian population.
     

    These things don't just happen. True, the West made a real effort to engage Ukrainian society and groom loyal leaders, but there was no corresponding pull in the opposite direction (despite the many advantages Russia had), because the Kremlin doesn't understand how public politics works. They couldn't govern Russia in any way, except feudal, they tried bringing this approach to the Ukraine and it didn't work.

    There was zero effort to engage Russia-friendly elements of Ukrainian society. What they tried to do instead is to establish a joint criminal enterprise with Mr Yanukovich. That was the essense of Putin's Ukrainian policy and it was pathetic.

    There are sizable Hungarian minorities in countries neighboring Hungary. There is a bullshit slogan that “the Hungarians in Romania/Slovakia/etc. should be a bridge to those countries”, but obviously everybody understands how stupid that is. Hungary does engage the ethnic Hungarians in those countries, in fact, heavy nationalist pressure meant that even leftist governments tended to subsidize them. Did it help that, to size the biggest example, in Slovakia almost 10% of voters were ethnically Hungarian (and so inherently friendly to Hungary)? Of course not.

    First off, some of them didn’t like the efforts of the motherland (which they perceived as overly patronizing or insufficient or whatever), so there was some counter-reaction even among the Hungarian minority. Then the more nationalistic of them didn’t like (at least when there was a leftist government in Budapest) when Hungary managed to engage the Slovakian government in spite of some of their grievances. (I tend to think those grievances were legitimate, but my point only gets stronger if they weren’t.)

    Well, the reaction of the Slovakian public was almost wholly negative. You can imagine the reasons: Hungary used to lay territorial claims to the areas of Slovakia with a majority Hungarian population (which is why they kept working hard on assimilating them, or else encouraging them to leave, especially after WW2, when hundreds of thousands, including some of my relatives, were deported to Hungary). You don’t need to be a paranoid Slovakian nationalist to understand why Slovakians might object to Hungary supporting ethnic Hungarian organizations in Slovakia. Even if the counter-reaction wasn’t always totally conscious, I’m sure that our support of ethnic Hungarian organizations and aspirations (which often included some form of territorial autonomy) did strengthen Slovakian nationalism, especially its anti-Hungarian manifestations. (Historical grievances and territorial disputes aside, Slovaks, by the way, are probably the people most similar culturally to Hungarians. It’s equally true that a lot of Hungarians have some Slovak ancestors, including Hungary’s national poet Petőfi, who was wholly or at least mostly of Slovak ancestry, though some previous schoolbooks wrongly attributed Serb ancestry to his father.) I’m sure that Hungary’s relations with Slovakian Slovaks (90% of Slovak voters, and so the ones determining the composition of the government) would’ve been better in the absence of Hungarian support for the Hungarian minority there. (Of course, betraying our ethnic kin is not something I’m condoning, I’m merely stating that there was an obvious price to supporting them, and it’s dishonest to say otherwise.)

    Finally, despite our best efforts, Slovakia’s Hungarian minority is slowly disappearing due to assimilation (which is the strongest there among all the neighboring countries – see what I wrote above about the similarity of cultures, a point which, I think, is strongly applicable to the Ukrainian situation vs. its Russian minority), and also because of ethnic Hungarians leaving Slovakia (for Hungary until a decade ago, and since then for the rest of the EU).

    In light of this experience, I fail to see how cuddling ethnic Russian or pro-Russian organizations in Ukraine would’ve helped Russia. Yanukovich’s party was a coalition of ethnic Russians, pro-Russian Ukrainians, and some Russian speaking Ukrainians who merely opposed Ukrainization policies out of convenience (because they didn’t want to bother to learn another language), but otherwise weren’t particularly pro-Russian. I’m sure that Russian support to ethnic Russians would’ve alienated at least some of the latter, and perhaps some from the other groups as well, while galvanizing anti-Russian nationalism in Ukraine. Given that roughly half of the population was more or less anti-Russian (as can be seen since the Orange Revolution), I fail to see how that would’ve helped. The “pro-Russia” side in Ukrainian politics was always (since Kuchma) pro-neutrality, because parts of that coalition were not particularly pro-Russia, and a pro-Russia position would’ve alienated them, so pro-Russia voters were forced to vote for what in essence was a pro-neutrality party.

    Another point, regarding Yanukovich, that as far as I know, he wasn’t a politician handpicked from Russia. He was the designated successor of President Kuchma, he was a domestic product of the pro-Russia (pro-neutrality) side of Ukrainian politics. Does anyone know if there were other contenders for that position, and that he became the candidate of that camp because of Russian support given to him? I honestly don’t know. But unless it can be shown that he was supported over a less kleptocratic (and so less bribable) candidate, I’ll think that he was simply the guy Russia could deal with.

    As to the subsidies, you do have a point, but Putin merely inherited this policy from Yeltsin, and it’s obvious (to me, at least) that changing it would’ve only led to further alienation of Ukraine (and maybe a Ukrainian NATO membership in the 00s?), so it was obviously not an option until Ukraine started to get hostile to Russia (after the Orange Revolution). You know, if I regularly subsidize you, you’ll eventually think it’s your birthright, and withdrawing those subsidies will make you bitter. That’s not fair, but that’s how human psychology works.

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    • Replies: @Felix Keverich
    You're saying that any attempts by Moscow to organise Russians in Ukraine would have caused backlash among the Ukrainian nationalists, and it's a valid point, BUT:

    - it would also create a lasting power base for pro-Russian politics in Ukraine, that would outlast Party of Regions.
    - it would make the country even more divided and ungovernable, which works to Russia's advantage
    - it would enable us to partition the Ukraine more effectively in 2014: instead of Donbass, we would also have Kharkov for example.

    For me the real issue with Kremlin's policy in the Ukraine is not that they allowed the West get the better of Russia, it's how lazy and PATHETIC our efforts have been. As a Russian I can't accept that bribery is the only "soft power" tool we use, and that our ambassador to Ukraine was some failed apparatchik, who got that job in a form of honorary retirement.

    The Kremlin really needs to raise its game otherwise we're going to lose Belarus as well.

    , @AP
    Very good comment, this describes the situation in Ukraine and of the coalition who supported the Party of Regions very accurately.

    Maidan and Russian invasion exposed the fractures within the Party of Regions electorate. The ones who wanted pro-Russian ties but who were not anti-Ukrainian (that is, they wanted Ukraine to be an independent state, they just wanted it to be within Russia's orbit rather than move towards the EU) felt betrayed and that their Russian brother stabbed them in the back. A lot of Dnipropetrovsk and Odessa were like this. The ones who were actually Russians or who thought of themselves as Russians, meanwhile, took the opportunity to leave. This region was small, and limited to Crimea and the southern and eastern parts of the Donbas.

    The Party of Regions has renamed itself and continues to push a "neutral" approach towards Russia. It has lost much of its electorate. It's Russian voters are no longer part of Ukraine, and the backlash has meant that it has lost Odessa and Dnipropetrovsk, whose voters tended to be pro-Ukrainian Russophiles (though it is still competitive in the former). It only wins regionally in Kharkiv now, and this on the strength of older voters, not the youth. It only has 12% or so of the parliament.

    Another point, regarding Yanukovich, that as far as I know, he wasn’t a politician handpicked from Russia. He was the designated successor of President Kuchma, he was a domestic product of the pro-Russia (pro-neutrality) side of Ukrainian politics. Does anyone know if there were other contenders for that position, and that he became the candidate of that camp because of Russian support given to him?
     
    The Party of Regions has other viable candidates who were younger, more savvy and more articulate. Tihipko was an example:

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Serhiy_Tihipko

    He might have managed not to piss off western and central Ukrainians enough not to have provoked a mass uprising.

    I don't think Russia had anything to do with the Party of Regions leadership process. The Party of Regions was the instrument of the southern and eastern oligarch clans, and the Donbas clan came out on top during the struggle within the Party of Regions, having for whatever reason (I strongly suspect, internal divisions) beaten out the Dnipropetrovsk clan which had previously dominated it, and Ukraine.

    It happens that Donbas was the most Russian region in Ukraine outside Crimea, so dominance of Ukraine by this clan created an inherently unstable situation. Yanukovich himself is a non-Ukrainian, the child of Russian and Belarussian settlers to Ukraine, and his government's PM was an actual Russian immigrant who moved to Ukraine when he was in his thirties.
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  42. @AP

    even as of February, a slight majority were against the Maidan in net terms (though critically, not in the capital).
     
    To be precise, it was 40% supported Maidan, 23% supported the government, 32% supported neither side:

    http://www.kiis.com.ua/?lang=ukr&cat=reports&id=231&page=10&y=2014

    If it were an election, turnout would be 63% and Maidan would win 63.5% to 36.5%.

    In Central Ukraine (where Kiev is) it was 51% supported Maidan, 11% supported the government, 33% supported neither side. Kiev tends to be a little more nationalistic than the rest of central Ukraine so the city's numbers would be skewed further in favor of Maidan.

    Okay, I was thinking of this poll, though admittedly that was in late January.

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    • Replies: @AP
    The two polls are not contradictory - but the one you linked provides less information, by essentially lumping together two positions - those who supported Yanukovch and his crackdown, and those who didn't support Maidan, but didn't support Yanukovich either (which was the second most popular position in Ukraine).

    It's like asking in a presidential poll - do you support Trump, or do you not support Trump? It's not like everyone not supporting him was a Hillary supporter.

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  43. @Anatoly Karlin
    I don't think it was an extraordinary strong push by the West - yes, Nuland's cookies are a meme, but they hardly scale to the $15 billion "push" that Russia had just exerted to draw Ukraine into Eurasec - nor was there a particularly strong pull by Ukrainians - even as of February, a slight majority were against the Maidan in net terms (though critically, not in the capital).

    Russia has basically zero soft power and as Felix, I believe it correctly, points out, the main avenue of influence it can effectively (or "effectively") practice is crude bribery, which might work for a time with the sort of two bit kleptocrats typical of the region (Yanukovych being a prime example), but buys no true loyalty and only fosters condescension in their civil societies.

    PS. The fact that the Russian ambassador to Ukraine stayed in his post for several months after his epochal failure there is very telling about the Russian state's degree of concern about competence.

    Regarding the anti-Maidan sentiment in Ukraine until February 2014, I think AP’s reply answers it. Regarding Felix’s retrospect proposition of “engaging pro-Russia elements in Ukrainian society”, I explained to him why I don’t think it would’ve helped at all. (Though now that Ukraine is lost for good, they might start it at least – in part that’s what they did with the Novorossiya project.)

    I also think that soft power is not something that a country can easily develop. The West looks cooler than anybody else, for example, and this will stay so for a long while (perhaps even a century or more) after it loses any technological or economic or military edge over the rest of the world. This is the same reason sophisticated Americans have always found Europe cooler than their own country, which looks nouveau riche in comparison. So even if Russia suddenly became richer than the US, it would still seem parvenu for a while. Putin can do nothing about it.

    Another part of Western soft power is that it is (together with its East Asian allies) still richer than anybody else. Putin could’ve done a bit more to help his economy, to be sure, but he did reasonably well.

    Then there’s the problem of rule of law: with the Magnitsky Act (where the supposed criminality of certain individuals is written into the law, and they’re unable to challenge it at a court of law…) and similar thuggery, the West might become over time less ruled by laws and more by who/whom logic ideologies or individuals, but it’s a long way, and perceptions lag this. So, a lot of Russian or Ukrainian oligarchs park their money in London or New York, because they think it’s safer there, but no American or Ukrainian oligarchs park their money in Russia, because they think it’s safe enough at home but unsafe in Russia. (OK, some Ukrainian oligarchs do have business interests in Russia, like I think Poroshenko himself, but that’s not exactly the same thing.) This will mean that the West could easily pressure the Ukrainian oligarchs and politicians by threatening to freeze their accounts (probably worth several billions of dollars). Russia had to outspend that threat (and probably was unable to, as seen from how Ukrainian oligarchs mostly sided against Yanukovich in the end), which cost the West nothing. There was nothing Putin could’ve done to avoid this asymmetry. Similarly, a travel ban issued by Russia is not nearly as threatening, as one issued by the US and the EU, because a lot of people want to travel to the US and the EU, whereas Russia is not a common travel destination. Oligarchs don’t send their children to Russian private schools or business schools, instead to British, Swiss, American, etc. institutions. It’s also asymmetric even from a business point of view, like being unable to do business with Western banks or companies is a way more serious threat to most than losing the ability to do business with Russia. (OK, for some Ukrainian oligarchs Russia was an important source of income. But at least there was always a credible possibility of making up for lost Russian revenue by starting business relations with the West.) It’s basically barring to do business with over half of world GDP (or WDP or whatever it’s called). The threat of barring them from entering those countries (and so the inability to enjoy their wealth there, or educate their children there, etc.) devalues their wealth instantly, something which Russia will need to outspend, whereas it cost the West nothing.

    Visa-free travel offered by the EU (with the later prospect of allowing Ukrainians to work there – something which wasn’t even promised, but Ukrainians understood, rightly or wrongly, to be inherent) is inherently worth more for most Ukrainians than a threat of revoking that right by Russia. (It wasn’t even threatened at the time, because obviously it would’ve alienated Ukrainians further.)

    I heard from some Hungarians (and read on some Hungarian websites) a decade ago that recent Russian films are actually getting pretty good, almost (or fully) Hollywood-level stuff (judged by entertainment value). (I saw some parts, unfortunately in Russian only, of a very good Chechen War movie produced by Berezovsky, the Russian title was something like Tchistilishche or something similar, and it means I think Purgatory, but I’m not totally sure. A military historian showed it, and said that at least the parts he showed us were quite realistic, I think he said that even the Estonian snipers that were shown in the movie might have been real.) Still nobody is watching Russian movies in Hungary, though I keep hearing of grandiose and interesting productions. I’m not sure anything could be done to change that – at least in Hungary, I don’t think they were getting a bad press. (Though I mostly heard about war movies, and sometimes the pro-Soviet tilt was criticized, but mostly overlooked as something to be expected and definitely not worse than the American self-worship in their war movies. I guess other good movies are getting produced in Russia, too, only they are not as interesting to Hungarian film critics and bloggers? Not sure.) This is another aspect of soft power that Putin won’t be able to change.

    Then there’s democracy. In Hungary (and I’d think in Ukraine, too) people are obviously suspicious of propaganda (or what they perceive as propaganda) that there’s more democracy in Russia than in the US or EU. And the fact that the US and EU are criticizing Russia’s democracy deficit means that you’ll have to choose – either you think Russia is a tyranny and the US/EU are not, or vice versa. (OK, you can think both are tyrannies in their own ways.) I cannot see how such entrenched perceptions could easily be changed, especially when it’s obvious that Putin’s regime is not very democratic.

    Or you can argue that Western style liberal democracy is inherently bad, as some do here, but then again, that’s something Hungarians for example are quite suspicious of, because we have already had such official opinions regarding Western style liberal democracies already during WW2 and then during the Cold War, and both times we happened to be on the losing side. When Western style liberal democracies have had a winning streak for a century (two world wars and a cold war, and even in the post-cold war world, NATO and the EU are constantly expanding with countries voluntarily joining them), it’s difficult to argue that they are rotten to the core. Even if we know they are.

    So the West had much larger soft power in Ukraine than Russia, and that was something that Putin inherited from Yeltsin (or actually, from the Soviet leaders and even perhaps the Romanovs), so there was nothing he could do about it.

    Sorry for the overly long comments.

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    • Replies: @reiner Tor

    world GDP (or WDP or whatever it’s called)
     
    I think GWP, gross world product.
    , @5371
    The west doesn't actually look cool any more, and three big reasons for that are:
    1. Lying down and rolling over for hordes of nigs and muzzers invading them. Not sexy.
    2. Threshing around in impotent fury over the imaginary Russian bogeyman supposedly conquering them with social media accounts. Also far from alpha.
    3. Tearing themselves to pieces with the latest woke outrage from wymyn, faggots and trannies. A turn-off.
    Neither 1, 2 nor 3 show any sign of stopping. So the west, already much less cool than its competitors, will continue to appear lamer and lamer.
    The west is Tap City. It's got nothing.
    , @Daniel Chieh
    Tchistilishche is quite good though I wouldn't say that it is Hollywood quality. Definitely recommend that you watch it in full if you have the time; I rather enjoyed it.
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  44. @reiner Tor
    Regarding the anti-Maidan sentiment in Ukraine until February 2014, I think AP's reply answers it. Regarding Felix's retrospect proposition of "engaging pro-Russia elements in Ukrainian society", I explained to him why I don't think it would've helped at all. (Though now that Ukraine is lost for good, they might start it at least - in part that's what they did with the Novorossiya project.)

    I also think that soft power is not something that a country can easily develop. The West looks cooler than anybody else, for example, and this will stay so for a long while (perhaps even a century or more) after it loses any technological or economic or military edge over the rest of the world. This is the same reason sophisticated Americans have always found Europe cooler than their own country, which looks nouveau riche in comparison. So even if Russia suddenly became richer than the US, it would still seem parvenu for a while. Putin can do nothing about it.

    Another part of Western soft power is that it is (together with its East Asian allies) still richer than anybody else. Putin could've done a bit more to help his economy, to be sure, but he did reasonably well.

    Then there's the problem of rule of law: with the Magnitsky Act (where the supposed criminality of certain individuals is written into the law, and they're unable to challenge it at a court of law...) and similar thuggery, the West might become over time less ruled by laws and more by who/whom logic ideologies or individuals, but it's a long way, and perceptions lag this. So, a lot of Russian or Ukrainian oligarchs park their money in London or New York, because they think it's safer there, but no American or Ukrainian oligarchs park their money in Russia, because they think it's safe enough at home but unsafe in Russia. (OK, some Ukrainian oligarchs do have business interests in Russia, like I think Poroshenko himself, but that's not exactly the same thing.) This will mean that the West could easily pressure the Ukrainian oligarchs and politicians by threatening to freeze their accounts (probably worth several billions of dollars). Russia had to outspend that threat (and probably was unable to, as seen from how Ukrainian oligarchs mostly sided against Yanukovich in the end), which cost the West nothing. There was nothing Putin could've done to avoid this asymmetry. Similarly, a travel ban issued by Russia is not nearly as threatening, as one issued by the US and the EU, because a lot of people want to travel to the US and the EU, whereas Russia is not a common travel destination. Oligarchs don't send their children to Russian private schools or business schools, instead to British, Swiss, American, etc. institutions. It's also asymmetric even from a business point of view, like being unable to do business with Western banks or companies is a way more serious threat to most than losing the ability to do business with Russia. (OK, for some Ukrainian oligarchs Russia was an important source of income. But at least there was always a credible possibility of making up for lost Russian revenue by starting business relations with the West.) It's basically barring to do business with over half of world GDP (or WDP or whatever it's called). The threat of barring them from entering those countries (and so the inability to enjoy their wealth there, or educate their children there, etc.) devalues their wealth instantly, something which Russia will need to outspend, whereas it cost the West nothing.

    Visa-free travel offered by the EU (with the later prospect of allowing Ukrainians to work there - something which wasn't even promised, but Ukrainians understood, rightly or wrongly, to be inherent) is inherently worth more for most Ukrainians than a threat of revoking that right by Russia. (It wasn't even threatened at the time, because obviously it would've alienated Ukrainians further.)

    I heard from some Hungarians (and read on some Hungarian websites) a decade ago that recent Russian films are actually getting pretty good, almost (or fully) Hollywood-level stuff (judged by entertainment value). (I saw some parts, unfortunately in Russian only, of a very good Chechen War movie produced by Berezovsky, the Russian title was something like Tchistilishche or something similar, and it means I think Purgatory, but I'm not totally sure. A military historian showed it, and said that at least the parts he showed us were quite realistic, I think he said that even the Estonian snipers that were shown in the movie might have been real.) Still nobody is watching Russian movies in Hungary, though I keep hearing of grandiose and interesting productions. I'm not sure anything could be done to change that - at least in Hungary, I don't think they were getting a bad press. (Though I mostly heard about war movies, and sometimes the pro-Soviet tilt was criticized, but mostly overlooked as something to be expected and definitely not worse than the American self-worship in their war movies. I guess other good movies are getting produced in Russia, too, only they are not as interesting to Hungarian film critics and bloggers? Not sure.) This is another aspect of soft power that Putin won't be able to change.

    Then there's democracy. In Hungary (and I'd think in Ukraine, too) people are obviously suspicious of propaganda (or what they perceive as propaganda) that there's more democracy in Russia than in the US or EU. And the fact that the US and EU are criticizing Russia's democracy deficit means that you'll have to choose - either you think Russia is a tyranny and the US/EU are not, or vice versa. (OK, you can think both are tyrannies in their own ways.) I cannot see how such entrenched perceptions could easily be changed, especially when it's obvious that Putin's regime is not very democratic.

    Or you can argue that Western style liberal democracy is inherently bad, as some do here, but then again, that's something Hungarians for example are quite suspicious of, because we have already had such official opinions regarding Western style liberal democracies already during WW2 and then during the Cold War, and both times we happened to be on the losing side. When Western style liberal democracies have had a winning streak for a century (two world wars and a cold war, and even in the post-cold war world, NATO and the EU are constantly expanding with countries voluntarily joining them), it's difficult to argue that they are rotten to the core. Even if we know they are.

    So the West had much larger soft power in Ukraine than Russia, and that was something that Putin inherited from Yeltsin (or actually, from the Soviet leaders and even perhaps the Romanovs), so there was nothing he could do about it.

    Sorry for the overly long comments.

    world GDP (or WDP or whatever it’s called)

    I think GWP, gross world product.

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  45. @reiner Tor
    There are sizable Hungarian minorities in countries neighboring Hungary. There is a bullshit slogan that "the Hungarians in Romania/Slovakia/etc. should be a bridge to those countries", but obviously everybody understands how stupid that is. Hungary does engage the ethnic Hungarians in those countries, in fact, heavy nationalist pressure meant that even leftist governments tended to subsidize them. Did it help that, to size the biggest example, in Slovakia almost 10% of voters were ethnically Hungarian (and so inherently friendly to Hungary)? Of course not.

    First off, some of them didn't like the efforts of the motherland (which they perceived as overly patronizing or insufficient or whatever), so there was some counter-reaction even among the Hungarian minority. Then the more nationalistic of them didn't like (at least when there was a leftist government in Budapest) when Hungary managed to engage the Slovakian government in spite of some of their grievances. (I tend to think those grievances were legitimate, but my point only gets stronger if they weren't.)

    Well, the reaction of the Slovakian public was almost wholly negative. You can imagine the reasons: Hungary used to lay territorial claims to the areas of Slovakia with a majority Hungarian population (which is why they kept working hard on assimilating them, or else encouraging them to leave, especially after WW2, when hundreds of thousands, including some of my relatives, were deported to Hungary). You don't need to be a paranoid Slovakian nationalist to understand why Slovakians might object to Hungary supporting ethnic Hungarian organizations in Slovakia. Even if the counter-reaction wasn't always totally conscious, I'm sure that our support of ethnic Hungarian organizations and aspirations (which often included some form of territorial autonomy) did strengthen Slovakian nationalism, especially its anti-Hungarian manifestations. (Historical grievances and territorial disputes aside, Slovaks, by the way, are probably the people most similar culturally to Hungarians. It's equally true that a lot of Hungarians have some Slovak ancestors, including Hungary's national poet Petőfi, who was wholly or at least mostly of Slovak ancestry, though some previous schoolbooks wrongly attributed Serb ancestry to his father.) I'm sure that Hungary's relations with Slovakian Slovaks (90% of Slovak voters, and so the ones determining the composition of the government) would've been better in the absence of Hungarian support for the Hungarian minority there. (Of course, betraying our ethnic kin is not something I'm condoning, I'm merely stating that there was an obvious price to supporting them, and it's dishonest to say otherwise.)

    Finally, despite our best efforts, Slovakia's Hungarian minority is slowly disappearing due to assimilation (which is the strongest there among all the neighboring countries - see what I wrote above about the similarity of cultures, a point which, I think, is strongly applicable to the Ukrainian situation vs. its Russian minority), and also because of ethnic Hungarians leaving Slovakia (for Hungary until a decade ago, and since then for the rest of the EU).

    In light of this experience, I fail to see how cuddling ethnic Russian or pro-Russian organizations in Ukraine would've helped Russia. Yanukovich's party was a coalition of ethnic Russians, pro-Russian Ukrainians, and some Russian speaking Ukrainians who merely opposed Ukrainization policies out of convenience (because they didn't want to bother to learn another language), but otherwise weren't particularly pro-Russian. I'm sure that Russian support to ethnic Russians would've alienated at least some of the latter, and perhaps some from the other groups as well, while galvanizing anti-Russian nationalism in Ukraine. Given that roughly half of the population was more or less anti-Russian (as can be seen since the Orange Revolution), I fail to see how that would've helped. The "pro-Russia" side in Ukrainian politics was always (since Kuchma) pro-neutrality, because parts of that coalition were not particularly pro-Russia, and a pro-Russia position would've alienated them, so pro-Russia voters were forced to vote for what in essence was a pro-neutrality party.

    Another point, regarding Yanukovich, that as far as I know, he wasn't a politician handpicked from Russia. He was the designated successor of President Kuchma, he was a domestic product of the pro-Russia (pro-neutrality) side of Ukrainian politics. Does anyone know if there were other contenders for that position, and that he became the candidate of that camp because of Russian support given to him? I honestly don't know. But unless it can be shown that he was supported over a less kleptocratic (and so less bribable) candidate, I'll think that he was simply the guy Russia could deal with.

    As to the subsidies, you do have a point, but Putin merely inherited this policy from Yeltsin, and it's obvious (to me, at least) that changing it would've only led to further alienation of Ukraine (and maybe a Ukrainian NATO membership in the 00s?), so it was obviously not an option until Ukraine started to get hostile to Russia (after the Orange Revolution). You know, if I regularly subsidize you, you'll eventually think it's your birthright, and withdrawing those subsidies will make you bitter. That's not fair, but that's how human psychology works.

    You’re saying that any attempts by Moscow to organise Russians in Ukraine would have caused backlash among the Ukrainian nationalists, and it’s a valid point, BUT:

    - it would also create a lasting power base for pro-Russian politics in Ukraine, that would outlast Party of Regions.
    - it would make the country even more divided and ungovernable, which works to Russia’s advantage
    - it would enable us to partition the Ukraine more effectively in 2014: instead of Donbass, we would also have Kharkov for example.

    For me the real issue with Kremlin’s policy in the Ukraine is not that they allowed the West get the better of Russia, it’s how lazy and PATHETIC our efforts have been. As a Russian I can’t accept that bribery is the only “soft power” tool we use, and that our ambassador to Ukraine was some failed apparatchik, who got that job in a form of honorary retirement.

    The Kremlin really needs to raise its game otherwise we’re going to lose Belarus as well.

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    • Replies: @reiner Tor

    it would also create a lasting power base for pro-Russian politics in Ukraine
     
    Maybe you're correct, though it's questionable how that power base would've enabled you to influence politics in Ukraine. Hungarian soft power in Slovakia and Romania is seriously negative, despite having sizable Hungarian parties in parliament (with good ties to Budapest) in both countries. It didn't help us: it hindered us, whatever we wanted to do. And this despite Hungary being richer than Romania, and 1999-2004 being a member of NATO (while Romania was not a member), or 2004-2007 being a member of the EU (while Romania wasn't). Theoretically we could've vetoed Romania's NATO or EU succession. So soft power + institutional power (membership in powerful organizations vs. Romanian non-membership in same) + being richer amounted to... some negative. Occasionally Hungary or the Hungarian minority came up in Romanian politics (fortunately it's not a central point anymore), and then always a Romanian government had to explain why it's doing business with Hungary, so actually we achieved nothing.

    it would make the country even more divided and ungovernable
     
    That depends on how much of a backlash there'd be against the Russians. Like pro-neutrality Ukrainians defecting from the Party of Regions and then you'd have a 70% orange/Maidanite majority in the Rada, and any parties defecting from it seen as traitors - this would actually make the country easier to govern.

    it would enable us to partition the Ukraine more effectively in 2014: instead of Donbass, we would also have Kharkov for example.
     
    Yes, but maybe then it wouldn't have happened in 2014, but instead in 2004 at the time of the Orange Revolution, when Russia was still much weaker.
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  46. @Felix Keverich
    You're saying that any attempts by Moscow to organise Russians in Ukraine would have caused backlash among the Ukrainian nationalists, and it's a valid point, BUT:

    - it would also create a lasting power base for pro-Russian politics in Ukraine, that would outlast Party of Regions.
    - it would make the country even more divided and ungovernable, which works to Russia's advantage
    - it would enable us to partition the Ukraine more effectively in 2014: instead of Donbass, we would also have Kharkov for example.

    For me the real issue with Kremlin's policy in the Ukraine is not that they allowed the West get the better of Russia, it's how lazy and PATHETIC our efforts have been. As a Russian I can't accept that bribery is the only "soft power" tool we use, and that our ambassador to Ukraine was some failed apparatchik, who got that job in a form of honorary retirement.

    The Kremlin really needs to raise its game otherwise we're going to lose Belarus as well.

    it would also create a lasting power base for pro-Russian politics in Ukraine

    Maybe you’re correct, though it’s questionable how that power base would’ve enabled you to influence politics in Ukraine. Hungarian soft power in Slovakia and Romania is seriously negative, despite having sizable Hungarian parties in parliament (with good ties to Budapest) in both countries. It didn’t help us: it hindered us, whatever we wanted to do. And this despite Hungary being richer than Romania, and 1999-2004 being a member of NATO (while Romania was not a member), or 2004-2007 being a member of the EU (while Romania wasn’t). Theoretically we could’ve vetoed Romania’s NATO or EU succession. So soft power + institutional power (membership in powerful organizations vs. Romanian non-membership in same) + being richer amounted to… some negative. Occasionally Hungary or the Hungarian minority came up in Romanian politics (fortunately it’s not a central point anymore), and then always a Romanian government had to explain why it’s doing business with Hungary, so actually we achieved nothing.

    it would make the country even more divided and ungovernable

    That depends on how much of a backlash there’d be against the Russians. Like pro-neutrality Ukrainians defecting from the Party of Regions and then you’d have a 70% orange/Maidanite majority in the Rada, and any parties defecting from it seen as traitors – this would actually make the country easier to govern.

    it would enable us to partition the Ukraine more effectively in 2014: instead of Donbass, we would also have Kharkov for example.

    Yes, but maybe then it wouldn’t have happened in 2014, but instead in 2004 at the time of the Orange Revolution, when Russia was still much weaker.

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  47. AP says:
    @Anatoly Karlin
    Okay, I was thinking of this poll, though admittedly that was in late January.

    http://rb.com.ua/EMobl_1.JPG

    The two polls are not contradictory – but the one you linked provides less information, by essentially lumping together two positions – those who supported Yanukovch and his crackdown, and those who didn’t support Maidan, but didn’t support Yanukovich either (which was the second most popular position in Ukraine).

    It’s like asking in a presidential poll – do you support Trump, or do you not support Trump? It’s not like everyone not supporting him was a Hillary supporter.

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  48. AP says:
    @reiner Tor
    There are sizable Hungarian minorities in countries neighboring Hungary. There is a bullshit slogan that "the Hungarians in Romania/Slovakia/etc. should be a bridge to those countries", but obviously everybody understands how stupid that is. Hungary does engage the ethnic Hungarians in those countries, in fact, heavy nationalist pressure meant that even leftist governments tended to subsidize them. Did it help that, to size the biggest example, in Slovakia almost 10% of voters were ethnically Hungarian (and so inherently friendly to Hungary)? Of course not.

    First off, some of them didn't like the efforts of the motherland (which they perceived as overly patronizing or insufficient or whatever), so there was some counter-reaction even among the Hungarian minority. Then the more nationalistic of them didn't like (at least when there was a leftist government in Budapest) when Hungary managed to engage the Slovakian government in spite of some of their grievances. (I tend to think those grievances were legitimate, but my point only gets stronger if they weren't.)

    Well, the reaction of the Slovakian public was almost wholly negative. You can imagine the reasons: Hungary used to lay territorial claims to the areas of Slovakia with a majority Hungarian population (which is why they kept working hard on assimilating them, or else encouraging them to leave, especially after WW2, when hundreds of thousands, including some of my relatives, were deported to Hungary). You don't need to be a paranoid Slovakian nationalist to understand why Slovakians might object to Hungary supporting ethnic Hungarian organizations in Slovakia. Even if the counter-reaction wasn't always totally conscious, I'm sure that our support of ethnic Hungarian organizations and aspirations (which often included some form of territorial autonomy) did strengthen Slovakian nationalism, especially its anti-Hungarian manifestations. (Historical grievances and territorial disputes aside, Slovaks, by the way, are probably the people most similar culturally to Hungarians. It's equally true that a lot of Hungarians have some Slovak ancestors, including Hungary's national poet Petőfi, who was wholly or at least mostly of Slovak ancestry, though some previous schoolbooks wrongly attributed Serb ancestry to his father.) I'm sure that Hungary's relations with Slovakian Slovaks (90% of Slovak voters, and so the ones determining the composition of the government) would've been better in the absence of Hungarian support for the Hungarian minority there. (Of course, betraying our ethnic kin is not something I'm condoning, I'm merely stating that there was an obvious price to supporting them, and it's dishonest to say otherwise.)

    Finally, despite our best efforts, Slovakia's Hungarian minority is slowly disappearing due to assimilation (which is the strongest there among all the neighboring countries - see what I wrote above about the similarity of cultures, a point which, I think, is strongly applicable to the Ukrainian situation vs. its Russian minority), and also because of ethnic Hungarians leaving Slovakia (for Hungary until a decade ago, and since then for the rest of the EU).

    In light of this experience, I fail to see how cuddling ethnic Russian or pro-Russian organizations in Ukraine would've helped Russia. Yanukovich's party was a coalition of ethnic Russians, pro-Russian Ukrainians, and some Russian speaking Ukrainians who merely opposed Ukrainization policies out of convenience (because they didn't want to bother to learn another language), but otherwise weren't particularly pro-Russian. I'm sure that Russian support to ethnic Russians would've alienated at least some of the latter, and perhaps some from the other groups as well, while galvanizing anti-Russian nationalism in Ukraine. Given that roughly half of the population was more or less anti-Russian (as can be seen since the Orange Revolution), I fail to see how that would've helped. The "pro-Russia" side in Ukrainian politics was always (since Kuchma) pro-neutrality, because parts of that coalition were not particularly pro-Russia, and a pro-Russia position would've alienated them, so pro-Russia voters were forced to vote for what in essence was a pro-neutrality party.

    Another point, regarding Yanukovich, that as far as I know, he wasn't a politician handpicked from Russia. He was the designated successor of President Kuchma, he was a domestic product of the pro-Russia (pro-neutrality) side of Ukrainian politics. Does anyone know if there were other contenders for that position, and that he became the candidate of that camp because of Russian support given to him? I honestly don't know. But unless it can be shown that he was supported over a less kleptocratic (and so less bribable) candidate, I'll think that he was simply the guy Russia could deal with.

    As to the subsidies, you do have a point, but Putin merely inherited this policy from Yeltsin, and it's obvious (to me, at least) that changing it would've only led to further alienation of Ukraine (and maybe a Ukrainian NATO membership in the 00s?), so it was obviously not an option until Ukraine started to get hostile to Russia (after the Orange Revolution). You know, if I regularly subsidize you, you'll eventually think it's your birthright, and withdrawing those subsidies will make you bitter. That's not fair, but that's how human psychology works.

    Very good comment, this describes the situation in Ukraine and of the coalition who supported the Party of Regions very accurately.

    Maidan and Russian invasion exposed the fractures within the Party of Regions electorate. The ones who wanted pro-Russian ties but who were not anti-Ukrainian (that is, they wanted Ukraine to be an independent state, they just wanted it to be within Russia’s orbit rather than move towards the EU) felt betrayed and that their Russian brother stabbed them in the back. A lot of Dnipropetrovsk and Odessa were like this. The ones who were actually Russians or who thought of themselves as Russians, meanwhile, took the opportunity to leave. This region was small, and limited to Crimea and the southern and eastern parts of the Donbas.

    The Party of Regions has renamed itself and continues to push a “neutral” approach towards Russia. It has lost much of its electorate. It’s Russian voters are no longer part of Ukraine, and the backlash has meant that it has lost Odessa and Dnipropetrovsk, whose voters tended to be pro-Ukrainian Russophiles (though it is still competitive in the former). It only wins regionally in Kharkiv now, and this on the strength of older voters, not the youth. It only has 12% or so of the parliament.

    Another point, regarding Yanukovich, that as far as I know, he wasn’t a politician handpicked from Russia. He was the designated successor of President Kuchma, he was a domestic product of the pro-Russia (pro-neutrality) side of Ukrainian politics. Does anyone know if there were other contenders for that position, and that he became the candidate of that camp because of Russian support given to him?

    The Party of Regions has other viable candidates who were younger, more savvy and more articulate. Tihipko was an example:

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Serhiy_Tihipko

    He might have managed not to piss off western and central Ukrainians enough not to have provoked a mass uprising.

    I don’t think Russia had anything to do with the Party of Regions leadership process. The Party of Regions was the instrument of the southern and eastern oligarch clans, and the Donbas clan came out on top during the struggle within the Party of Regions, having for whatever reason (I strongly suspect, internal divisions) beaten out the Dnipropetrovsk clan which had previously dominated it, and Ukraine.

    It happens that Donbas was the most Russian region in Ukraine outside Crimea, so dominance of Ukraine by this clan created an inherently unstable situation. Yanukovich himself is a non-Ukrainian, the child of Russian and Belarussian settlers to Ukraine, and his government’s PM was an actual Russian immigrant who moved to Ukraine when he was in his thirties.

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    • Replies: @AP
    I don't know the internal situation of Slovakia that well, but imagine if the country were not 10% Hungarian but about 20% Hungarian, with another 25%-30% of the population being Slovaks who liked Hungary, whose industries were tied up with Hungary, and who wanted Slovakia to be allied with Hungary. These two groups formed a coalition and ruled the country. Now imagine if within this coalition actual ethnic Hungarians came out on top, and Slovakia was now ruled by an ethnic Hungarian president and PM. That was Ukraine's situation under the Yanukovich government.

    Russia's interests would have probably been better served if its friend in Ukraine, the Party of Regions, was controlled by ethnic Ukrainians.
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  49. AP says:
    @AP
    Very good comment, this describes the situation in Ukraine and of the coalition who supported the Party of Regions very accurately.

    Maidan and Russian invasion exposed the fractures within the Party of Regions electorate. The ones who wanted pro-Russian ties but who were not anti-Ukrainian (that is, they wanted Ukraine to be an independent state, they just wanted it to be within Russia's orbit rather than move towards the EU) felt betrayed and that their Russian brother stabbed them in the back. A lot of Dnipropetrovsk and Odessa were like this. The ones who were actually Russians or who thought of themselves as Russians, meanwhile, took the opportunity to leave. This region was small, and limited to Crimea and the southern and eastern parts of the Donbas.

    The Party of Regions has renamed itself and continues to push a "neutral" approach towards Russia. It has lost much of its electorate. It's Russian voters are no longer part of Ukraine, and the backlash has meant that it has lost Odessa and Dnipropetrovsk, whose voters tended to be pro-Ukrainian Russophiles (though it is still competitive in the former). It only wins regionally in Kharkiv now, and this on the strength of older voters, not the youth. It only has 12% or so of the parliament.

    Another point, regarding Yanukovich, that as far as I know, he wasn’t a politician handpicked from Russia. He was the designated successor of President Kuchma, he was a domestic product of the pro-Russia (pro-neutrality) side of Ukrainian politics. Does anyone know if there were other contenders for that position, and that he became the candidate of that camp because of Russian support given to him?
     
    The Party of Regions has other viable candidates who were younger, more savvy and more articulate. Tihipko was an example:

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Serhiy_Tihipko

    He might have managed not to piss off western and central Ukrainians enough not to have provoked a mass uprising.

    I don't think Russia had anything to do with the Party of Regions leadership process. The Party of Regions was the instrument of the southern and eastern oligarch clans, and the Donbas clan came out on top during the struggle within the Party of Regions, having for whatever reason (I strongly suspect, internal divisions) beaten out the Dnipropetrovsk clan which had previously dominated it, and Ukraine.

    It happens that Donbas was the most Russian region in Ukraine outside Crimea, so dominance of Ukraine by this clan created an inherently unstable situation. Yanukovich himself is a non-Ukrainian, the child of Russian and Belarussian settlers to Ukraine, and his government's PM was an actual Russian immigrant who moved to Ukraine when he was in his thirties.

    I don’t know the internal situation of Slovakia that well, but imagine if the country were not 10% Hungarian but about 20% Hungarian, with another 25%-30% of the population being Slovaks who liked Hungary, whose industries were tied up with Hungary, and who wanted Slovakia to be allied with Hungary. These two groups formed a coalition and ruled the country. Now imagine if within this coalition actual ethnic Hungarians came out on top, and Slovakia was now ruled by an ethnic Hungarian president and PM. That was Ukraine’s situation under the Yanukovich government.

    Russia’s interests would have probably been better served if its friend in Ukraine, the Party of Regions, was controlled by ethnic Ukrainians.

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    • Replies: @reiner Tor
    Speaking of Hungarian minorities and Ukraine... I wanted to bring up this topic for some time.

    Recently Ukraine changed the education law, which effectively outlaws minority language schools. This was obviously intended against Russian language schools, but it also happens to outlaw other minority languages (like Hungarian), too. There are 150,000 ethnic Hungarians in Ukraine, all in the small Transcarpathian region, which had belonged to Hungary for roughly a thousand years before 1918.

    In Hungary it was universally condemned (I think some other neighboring countries like Poland and Romania also raised objections), and the Hungarian government issued some extremely strongly worded statements against it. I think they even said that they'll veto anything helping Ukraine in NATO or the EU until the issue was resolved. The Ukrainians of course doubled down, and Ukrainian nationalists have already traveled there to hold some semi-violent rallies (like removing Hungarian flags and I think vandalizing a monument or something), and accused the Hungarian government of being too cozy with Putin. (Which it is, but I doubt this is the proximate cause. I think it's more likely to be indirect, like the Hungarian government having worse relations with Ukraine as a result of the warmer Putin relationship, and so there were less inhibitions against a very strong backlash when the education law was signed by the Ukrainian president. Previously many had hoped that Poroshenko would at least refer it to the Constitutional Court after the numerous diplomatic protests.)

    I find the Hungarian government reaction understandable, but a bit overwrought: I have seen demographic projections, and I find it unlikely that the Hungarian minority in Ukraine will survive for more than a century. It's fairly small, so if anyhow we were to reacquire the area, we can settle it with Hungarian settlers, or assimilate the population we can find there (Ruthenians and other Ukrainians are genetically quite close to Hungarians, the culture is somewhat different, but I don't think it'd be more much difficult than the current assimilation the other way around). So I have personally long considered this minority lost for good.

    I also don't think that such strong language is too helpful against a much bigger country. Obviously the Ukrainian leadership would find it a loss of face if they backed down after some strongly worded protests by such a small country as Hungary. So they are holding their own. I'm not sure what the eventual outcome will be, but I don't think Hungary will be allowed to hinder serious US or German policies, especially not both. (Though Germany might be secretly happy with it, they probably don't want Ukraine in the EU.)

    Anyway, do you know anything about this educational law debate or how it's perceived in Ukraine?
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  50. @AP
    I don't know the internal situation of Slovakia that well, but imagine if the country were not 10% Hungarian but about 20% Hungarian, with another 25%-30% of the population being Slovaks who liked Hungary, whose industries were tied up with Hungary, and who wanted Slovakia to be allied with Hungary. These two groups formed a coalition and ruled the country. Now imagine if within this coalition actual ethnic Hungarians came out on top, and Slovakia was now ruled by an ethnic Hungarian president and PM. That was Ukraine's situation under the Yanukovich government.

    Russia's interests would have probably been better served if its friend in Ukraine, the Party of Regions, was controlled by ethnic Ukrainians.

    Speaking of Hungarian minorities and Ukraine… I wanted to bring up this topic for some time.

    Recently Ukraine changed the education law, which effectively outlaws minority language schools. This was obviously intended against Russian language schools, but it also happens to outlaw other minority languages (like Hungarian), too. There are 150,000 ethnic Hungarians in Ukraine, all in the small Transcarpathian region, which had belonged to Hungary for roughly a thousand years before 1918.

    In Hungary it was universally condemned (I think some other neighboring countries like Poland and Romania also raised objections), and the Hungarian government issued some extremely strongly worded statements against it. I think they even said that they’ll veto anything helping Ukraine in NATO or the EU until the issue was resolved. The Ukrainians of course doubled down, and Ukrainian nationalists have already traveled there to hold some semi-violent rallies (like removing Hungarian flags and I think vandalizing a monument or something), and accused the Hungarian government of being too cozy with Putin. (Which it is, but I doubt this is the proximate cause. I think it’s more likely to be indirect, like the Hungarian government having worse relations with Ukraine as a result of the warmer Putin relationship, and so there were less inhibitions against a very strong backlash when the education law was signed by the Ukrainian president. Previously many had hoped that Poroshenko would at least refer it to the Constitutional Court after the numerous diplomatic protests.)

    I find the Hungarian government reaction understandable, but a bit overwrought: I have seen demographic projections, and I find it unlikely that the Hungarian minority in Ukraine will survive for more than a century. It’s fairly small, so if anyhow we were to reacquire the area, we can settle it with Hungarian settlers, or assimilate the population we can find there (Ruthenians and other Ukrainians are genetically quite close to Hungarians, the culture is somewhat different, but I don’t think it’d be more much difficult than the current assimilation the other way around). So I have personally long considered this minority lost for good.

    I also don’t think that such strong language is too helpful against a much bigger country. Obviously the Ukrainian leadership would find it a loss of face if they backed down after some strongly worded protests by such a small country as Hungary. So they are holding their own. I’m not sure what the eventual outcome will be, but I don’t think Hungary will be allowed to hinder serious US or German policies, especially not both. (Though Germany might be secretly happy with it, they probably don’t want Ukraine in the EU.)

    Anyway, do you know anything about this educational law debate or how it’s perceived in Ukraine?

    Read More
    • Replies: @AP
    The situation is that these Hungarian-language schools only have 1-3 hours weekly in the Ukrainian language and the kids who leave these schools fail at national university entrance exams. The new law keeps Hungarian elementary schools but phases in the Ukrainian language for higher grades, so that eventually the kids will be taking some Hungarian classes in high school but the school is either half or mostly in Ukrainian (not sure how much specifically), to make sure that the kids can speak Ukrainian well. So Hungarian is not actually eliminated, even on the high school level. They are also saying that
    no Hungarian teacher will lose his or her job. This will also be true of Romanian schools. When the details were explained to the Romanians, their objections ceased.

    What I've read in the Ukrainian media is that the Hungarians don't actually know what is going on, and there is anger at Hungary for its reaction.
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  51. AP says:
    @reiner Tor
    Speaking of Hungarian minorities and Ukraine... I wanted to bring up this topic for some time.

    Recently Ukraine changed the education law, which effectively outlaws minority language schools. This was obviously intended against Russian language schools, but it also happens to outlaw other minority languages (like Hungarian), too. There are 150,000 ethnic Hungarians in Ukraine, all in the small Transcarpathian region, which had belonged to Hungary for roughly a thousand years before 1918.

    In Hungary it was universally condemned (I think some other neighboring countries like Poland and Romania also raised objections), and the Hungarian government issued some extremely strongly worded statements against it. I think they even said that they'll veto anything helping Ukraine in NATO or the EU until the issue was resolved. The Ukrainians of course doubled down, and Ukrainian nationalists have already traveled there to hold some semi-violent rallies (like removing Hungarian flags and I think vandalizing a monument or something), and accused the Hungarian government of being too cozy with Putin. (Which it is, but I doubt this is the proximate cause. I think it's more likely to be indirect, like the Hungarian government having worse relations with Ukraine as a result of the warmer Putin relationship, and so there were less inhibitions against a very strong backlash when the education law was signed by the Ukrainian president. Previously many had hoped that Poroshenko would at least refer it to the Constitutional Court after the numerous diplomatic protests.)

    I find the Hungarian government reaction understandable, but a bit overwrought: I have seen demographic projections, and I find it unlikely that the Hungarian minority in Ukraine will survive for more than a century. It's fairly small, so if anyhow we were to reacquire the area, we can settle it with Hungarian settlers, or assimilate the population we can find there (Ruthenians and other Ukrainians are genetically quite close to Hungarians, the culture is somewhat different, but I don't think it'd be more much difficult than the current assimilation the other way around). So I have personally long considered this minority lost for good.

    I also don't think that such strong language is too helpful against a much bigger country. Obviously the Ukrainian leadership would find it a loss of face if they backed down after some strongly worded protests by such a small country as Hungary. So they are holding their own. I'm not sure what the eventual outcome will be, but I don't think Hungary will be allowed to hinder serious US or German policies, especially not both. (Though Germany might be secretly happy with it, they probably don't want Ukraine in the EU.)

    Anyway, do you know anything about this educational law debate or how it's perceived in Ukraine?

    The situation is that these Hungarian-language schools only have 1-3 hours weekly in the Ukrainian language and the kids who leave these schools fail at national university entrance exams. The new law keeps Hungarian elementary schools but phases in the Ukrainian language for higher grades, so that eventually the kids will be taking some Hungarian classes in high school but the school is either half or mostly in Ukrainian (not sure how much specifically), to make sure that the kids can speak Ukrainian well. So Hungarian is not actually eliminated, even on the high school level. They are also saying that
    no Hungarian teacher will lose his or her job. This will also be true of Romanian schools. When the details were explained to the Romanians, their objections ceased.

    What I’ve read in the Ukrainian media is that the Hungarians don’t actually know what is going on, and there is anger at Hungary for its reaction.

    Read More
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  52. 5371 says:
    @reiner Tor
    Regarding the anti-Maidan sentiment in Ukraine until February 2014, I think AP's reply answers it. Regarding Felix's retrospect proposition of "engaging pro-Russia elements in Ukrainian society", I explained to him why I don't think it would've helped at all. (Though now that Ukraine is lost for good, they might start it at least - in part that's what they did with the Novorossiya project.)

    I also think that soft power is not something that a country can easily develop. The West looks cooler than anybody else, for example, and this will stay so for a long while (perhaps even a century or more) after it loses any technological or economic or military edge over the rest of the world. This is the same reason sophisticated Americans have always found Europe cooler than their own country, which looks nouveau riche in comparison. So even if Russia suddenly became richer than the US, it would still seem parvenu for a while. Putin can do nothing about it.

    Another part of Western soft power is that it is (together with its East Asian allies) still richer than anybody else. Putin could've done a bit more to help his economy, to be sure, but he did reasonably well.

    Then there's the problem of rule of law: with the Magnitsky Act (where the supposed criminality of certain individuals is written into the law, and they're unable to challenge it at a court of law...) and similar thuggery, the West might become over time less ruled by laws and more by who/whom logic ideologies or individuals, but it's a long way, and perceptions lag this. So, a lot of Russian or Ukrainian oligarchs park their money in London or New York, because they think it's safer there, but no American or Ukrainian oligarchs park their money in Russia, because they think it's safe enough at home but unsafe in Russia. (OK, some Ukrainian oligarchs do have business interests in Russia, like I think Poroshenko himself, but that's not exactly the same thing.) This will mean that the West could easily pressure the Ukrainian oligarchs and politicians by threatening to freeze their accounts (probably worth several billions of dollars). Russia had to outspend that threat (and probably was unable to, as seen from how Ukrainian oligarchs mostly sided against Yanukovich in the end), which cost the West nothing. There was nothing Putin could've done to avoid this asymmetry. Similarly, a travel ban issued by Russia is not nearly as threatening, as one issued by the US and the EU, because a lot of people want to travel to the US and the EU, whereas Russia is not a common travel destination. Oligarchs don't send their children to Russian private schools or business schools, instead to British, Swiss, American, etc. institutions. It's also asymmetric even from a business point of view, like being unable to do business with Western banks or companies is a way more serious threat to most than losing the ability to do business with Russia. (OK, for some Ukrainian oligarchs Russia was an important source of income. But at least there was always a credible possibility of making up for lost Russian revenue by starting business relations with the West.) It's basically barring to do business with over half of world GDP (or WDP or whatever it's called). The threat of barring them from entering those countries (and so the inability to enjoy their wealth there, or educate their children there, etc.) devalues their wealth instantly, something which Russia will need to outspend, whereas it cost the West nothing.

    Visa-free travel offered by the EU (with the later prospect of allowing Ukrainians to work there - something which wasn't even promised, but Ukrainians understood, rightly or wrongly, to be inherent) is inherently worth more for most Ukrainians than a threat of revoking that right by Russia. (It wasn't even threatened at the time, because obviously it would've alienated Ukrainians further.)

    I heard from some Hungarians (and read on some Hungarian websites) a decade ago that recent Russian films are actually getting pretty good, almost (or fully) Hollywood-level stuff (judged by entertainment value). (I saw some parts, unfortunately in Russian only, of a very good Chechen War movie produced by Berezovsky, the Russian title was something like Tchistilishche or something similar, and it means I think Purgatory, but I'm not totally sure. A military historian showed it, and said that at least the parts he showed us were quite realistic, I think he said that even the Estonian snipers that were shown in the movie might have been real.) Still nobody is watching Russian movies in Hungary, though I keep hearing of grandiose and interesting productions. I'm not sure anything could be done to change that - at least in Hungary, I don't think they were getting a bad press. (Though I mostly heard about war movies, and sometimes the pro-Soviet tilt was criticized, but mostly overlooked as something to be expected and definitely not worse than the American self-worship in their war movies. I guess other good movies are getting produced in Russia, too, only they are not as interesting to Hungarian film critics and bloggers? Not sure.) This is another aspect of soft power that Putin won't be able to change.

    Then there's democracy. In Hungary (and I'd think in Ukraine, too) people are obviously suspicious of propaganda (or what they perceive as propaganda) that there's more democracy in Russia than in the US or EU. And the fact that the US and EU are criticizing Russia's democracy deficit means that you'll have to choose - either you think Russia is a tyranny and the US/EU are not, or vice versa. (OK, you can think both are tyrannies in their own ways.) I cannot see how such entrenched perceptions could easily be changed, especially when it's obvious that Putin's regime is not very democratic.

    Or you can argue that Western style liberal democracy is inherently bad, as some do here, but then again, that's something Hungarians for example are quite suspicious of, because we have already had such official opinions regarding Western style liberal democracies already during WW2 and then during the Cold War, and both times we happened to be on the losing side. When Western style liberal democracies have had a winning streak for a century (two world wars and a cold war, and even in the post-cold war world, NATO and the EU are constantly expanding with countries voluntarily joining them), it's difficult to argue that they are rotten to the core. Even if we know they are.

    So the West had much larger soft power in Ukraine than Russia, and that was something that Putin inherited from Yeltsin (or actually, from the Soviet leaders and even perhaps the Romanovs), so there was nothing he could do about it.

    Sorry for the overly long comments.

    The west doesn’t actually look cool any more, and three big reasons for that are:
    1. Lying down and rolling over for hordes of nigs and muzzers invading them. Not sexy.
    2. Threshing around in impotent fury over the imaginary Russian bogeyman supposedly conquering them with social media accounts. Also far from alpha.
    3. Tearing themselves to pieces with the latest woke outrage from wymyn, faggots and trannies. A turn-off.
    Neither 1, 2 nor 3 show any sign of stopping. So the west, already much less cool than its competitors, will continue to appear lamer and lamer.
    The west is Tap City. It’s got nothing.

    Read More
    • Agree: RadicalCenter
    • Replies: @JL

    2. Threshing around in impotent fury over the imaginary Russian bogeyman supposedly conquering them with social media accounts. Also far from alpha.
     
    Even Russian liberals get it, in their own roundabout way.

    https://republic.ru/posts/87516
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  53. 5371 says:

    All the bloviating about how Russia “lost the Ukraine in 2014″ can be met with a simple and elegant retort, and here it is.
    Russia did not have the Ukraine before 2014.
    The situation before 2014 was much better for the khokhols than the present situation, and much worse for Russians. Khokhols were able to constantly extract free shit, which they repaid with the characteristic ethnic ingratitude. Russians played the role of a self-deceiving cuck strung along by a worthless thot. Now, those illusions have in great part been swept away, and new illusions find it impossible to coalesce. But the best thing about 2014 has nothing to do with the khokhols. It is the erection of an insurmountable barrier between Russia and the west. The Syrian war has been great for Russia and won her prestige which might otherwise have taken decades to accumulate, but could not itself have erected that barrier.

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  54. 5371 says:
    @Anatoly Karlin
    In the 1990s there were reasonably widespread expectations that Russia would soon or later reclaim the Novorossiya territories (Samuel Huntington quotes a Russian general saying that Eastern Ukraine would come crawling back in 10, 15 years in Clash of Civilizations).

    Even people such as AP (as he said recently) were skeptical about Ukraine's long-term capacity to hold on to those regions.

    But here we are. They have, essentially, won. And the chances this will be reversed are now less than 10%, I would say.

    Even just getting Crimea back was not without risks.
     
    Incidentally, Defense Minister Shoigu was against even that (according to Mikhail Zygar).

    Why would anyone believe an enemy agent like Zygar about anything?

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  55. JL says:
    @5371
    The west doesn't actually look cool any more, and three big reasons for that are:
    1. Lying down and rolling over for hordes of nigs and muzzers invading them. Not sexy.
    2. Threshing around in impotent fury over the imaginary Russian bogeyman supposedly conquering them with social media accounts. Also far from alpha.
    3. Tearing themselves to pieces with the latest woke outrage from wymyn, faggots and trannies. A turn-off.
    Neither 1, 2 nor 3 show any sign of stopping. So the west, already much less cool than its competitors, will continue to appear lamer and lamer.
    The west is Tap City. It's got nothing.

    2. Threshing around in impotent fury over the imaginary Russian bogeyman supposedly conquering them with social media accounts. Also far from alpha.

    Even Russian liberals get it, in their own roundabout way.

    https://republic.ru/posts/87516

    Read More
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  56. @Anon
    Watch for the detractors at home and across the ocean whining that "Russian statistics are unreliable" - pretty much the same chorus we hear every time one of the perceived enemies of the Hillary-at reports there are other ways. This complaint has never surfaced during the 2017 US healtthcare reform, where the "independent" OBR produced repeatedly, overnight, estimates of costs for each proposed reform.

    Of course, if anything shows that the US isn’t the Greatest Country in the world, it must be false.

    Read More
    • Replies: @5371
    So what's your prognosis after the 19th Congress? Will Xi stay till 2027 as General Secretary?
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  57. @reiner Tor
    Regarding the anti-Maidan sentiment in Ukraine until February 2014, I think AP's reply answers it. Regarding Felix's retrospect proposition of "engaging pro-Russia elements in Ukrainian society", I explained to him why I don't think it would've helped at all. (Though now that Ukraine is lost for good, they might start it at least - in part that's what they did with the Novorossiya project.)

    I also think that soft power is not something that a country can easily develop. The West looks cooler than anybody else, for example, and this will stay so for a long while (perhaps even a century or more) after it loses any technological or economic or military edge over the rest of the world. This is the same reason sophisticated Americans have always found Europe cooler than their own country, which looks nouveau riche in comparison. So even if Russia suddenly became richer than the US, it would still seem parvenu for a while. Putin can do nothing about it.

    Another part of Western soft power is that it is (together with its East Asian allies) still richer than anybody else. Putin could've done a bit more to help his economy, to be sure, but he did reasonably well.

    Then there's the problem of rule of law: with the Magnitsky Act (where the supposed criminality of certain individuals is written into the law, and they're unable to challenge it at a court of law...) and similar thuggery, the West might become over time less ruled by laws and more by who/whom logic ideologies or individuals, but it's a long way, and perceptions lag this. So, a lot of Russian or Ukrainian oligarchs park their money in London or New York, because they think it's safer there, but no American or Ukrainian oligarchs park their money in Russia, because they think it's safe enough at home but unsafe in Russia. (OK, some Ukrainian oligarchs do have business interests in Russia, like I think Poroshenko himself, but that's not exactly the same thing.) This will mean that the West could easily pressure the Ukrainian oligarchs and politicians by threatening to freeze their accounts (probably worth several billions of dollars). Russia had to outspend that threat (and probably was unable to, as seen from how Ukrainian oligarchs mostly sided against Yanukovich in the end), which cost the West nothing. There was nothing Putin could've done to avoid this asymmetry. Similarly, a travel ban issued by Russia is not nearly as threatening, as one issued by the US and the EU, because a lot of people want to travel to the US and the EU, whereas Russia is not a common travel destination. Oligarchs don't send their children to Russian private schools or business schools, instead to British, Swiss, American, etc. institutions. It's also asymmetric even from a business point of view, like being unable to do business with Western banks or companies is a way more serious threat to most than losing the ability to do business with Russia. (OK, for some Ukrainian oligarchs Russia was an important source of income. But at least there was always a credible possibility of making up for lost Russian revenue by starting business relations with the West.) It's basically barring to do business with over half of world GDP (or WDP or whatever it's called). The threat of barring them from entering those countries (and so the inability to enjoy their wealth there, or educate their children there, etc.) devalues their wealth instantly, something which Russia will need to outspend, whereas it cost the West nothing.

    Visa-free travel offered by the EU (with the later prospect of allowing Ukrainians to work there - something which wasn't even promised, but Ukrainians understood, rightly or wrongly, to be inherent) is inherently worth more for most Ukrainians than a threat of revoking that right by Russia. (It wasn't even threatened at the time, because obviously it would've alienated Ukrainians further.)

    I heard from some Hungarians (and read on some Hungarian websites) a decade ago that recent Russian films are actually getting pretty good, almost (or fully) Hollywood-level stuff (judged by entertainment value). (I saw some parts, unfortunately in Russian only, of a very good Chechen War movie produced by Berezovsky, the Russian title was something like Tchistilishche or something similar, and it means I think Purgatory, but I'm not totally sure. A military historian showed it, and said that at least the parts he showed us were quite realistic, I think he said that even the Estonian snipers that were shown in the movie might have been real.) Still nobody is watching Russian movies in Hungary, though I keep hearing of grandiose and interesting productions. I'm not sure anything could be done to change that - at least in Hungary, I don't think they were getting a bad press. (Though I mostly heard about war movies, and sometimes the pro-Soviet tilt was criticized, but mostly overlooked as something to be expected and definitely not worse than the American self-worship in their war movies. I guess other good movies are getting produced in Russia, too, only they are not as interesting to Hungarian film critics and bloggers? Not sure.) This is another aspect of soft power that Putin won't be able to change.

    Then there's democracy. In Hungary (and I'd think in Ukraine, too) people are obviously suspicious of propaganda (or what they perceive as propaganda) that there's more democracy in Russia than in the US or EU. And the fact that the US and EU are criticizing Russia's democracy deficit means that you'll have to choose - either you think Russia is a tyranny and the US/EU are not, or vice versa. (OK, you can think both are tyrannies in their own ways.) I cannot see how such entrenched perceptions could easily be changed, especially when it's obvious that Putin's regime is not very democratic.

    Or you can argue that Western style liberal democracy is inherently bad, as some do here, but then again, that's something Hungarians for example are quite suspicious of, because we have already had such official opinions regarding Western style liberal democracies already during WW2 and then during the Cold War, and both times we happened to be on the losing side. When Western style liberal democracies have had a winning streak for a century (two world wars and a cold war, and even in the post-cold war world, NATO and the EU are constantly expanding with countries voluntarily joining them), it's difficult to argue that they are rotten to the core. Even if we know they are.

    So the West had much larger soft power in Ukraine than Russia, and that was something that Putin inherited from Yeltsin (or actually, from the Soviet leaders and even perhaps the Romanovs), so there was nothing he could do about it.

    Sorry for the overly long comments.

    Tchistilishche is quite good though I wouldn’t say that it is Hollywood quality. Definitely recommend that you watch it in full if you have the time; I rather enjoyed it.

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  58. Kimppis says:

    http://www.globaltimes.cn/content/1075175.shtml

    So apparently Russia is now “behind” Poland in supercomputers? Pathetic.

    The US is declining, China is now the clear number 1. No surprises there, great news.

    Of course the list strange in some other ways as well… Ireland has 4, Saudi Arabia (!) has 4, which is an absolute joke, Finland being the second “best” nordic country is BS overall, countries like Spain not listed at all, South Korea with only 5 (the same as Poland!)…

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  59. 5371 says:
    @Daniel Chieh
    Of course, if anything shows that the US isn't the Greatest Country in the world, it must be false.

    So what’s your prognosis after the 19th Congress? Will Xi stay till 2027 as General Secretary?

    Read More
    • Replies: @Daniel Chieh
    From what I can tell, China has decided that its time for "emergence" and after having accomplished some significant economic and military gains, feel that her model can be exported to some extent. I usually suspect a mercenary goal in almost anything China does, so I would think that its specifically with the aim of "selling" government advisors to states such as in Africa for either money or influence.

    I don't think that Xi will stay until 2027. My feeling is that despite the various efforts to claim him to Mao, he's actually trying to setup a new system that will help exclude a lot of the inefficiency and corruption that happened in the past. Once he's complete with that, he'll retire for a successor.

    The major change is that prior to Xi and after Deng, China had very powerful local provincial governments that in many ways, operated like autonomous regions. It had its upsides, as local governance often does, but it also is the reason why a lot of pollution and waste were created: the "ghost cities" which were made to boost local GDP numbers, the tendency to pollute because it'll be another province's problem(imagine Texas dumping into Lousiana waters and going fuck it), and the disorganized military.

    This is now being streamlined into a much more centralized system operated out of Beijing, and so far has been successful - pollution's better, the military seems less fucktarded, and corruption has gone down. Anyway, if Xi Dada tripped over his shoe and broke his neck, the general goal is still there and I think he'll accomplish most of what he wants in the next five years. A successor will continue the policies then with the new realities on the ground.

    And I mean, what else is there for China to do, exactly? Continue with the levels of corruption as before? The middle class has higher expectations now. Become a liberal democracy? Well, that's not really demonstrating its strength in the West now and its not like South Korea and Taiwan are dizzying examples of success. The Party offers stability and so as long as the living standard is improving for the average citizen, its probably the best that can be realistic at the moment.
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  60. @5371
    So what's your prognosis after the 19th Congress? Will Xi stay till 2027 as General Secretary?

    From what I can tell, China has decided that its time for “emergence” and after having accomplished some significant economic and military gains, feel that her model can be exported to some extent. I usually suspect a mercenary goal in almost anything China does, so I would think that its specifically with the aim of “selling” government advisors to states such as in Africa for either money or influence.

    I don’t think that Xi will stay until 2027. My feeling is that despite the various efforts to claim him to Mao, he’s actually trying to setup a new system that will help exclude a lot of the inefficiency and corruption that happened in the past. Once he’s complete with that, he’ll retire for a successor.

    The major change is that prior to Xi and after Deng, China had very powerful local provincial governments that in many ways, operated like autonomous regions. It had its upsides, as local governance often does, but it also is the reason why a lot of pollution and waste were created: the “ghost cities” which were made to boost local GDP numbers, the tendency to pollute because it’ll be another province’s problem(imagine Texas dumping into Lousiana waters and going fuck it), and the disorganized military.

    This is now being streamlined into a much more centralized system operated out of Beijing, and so far has been successful – pollution’s better, the military seems less fucktarded, and corruption has gone down. Anyway, if Xi Dada tripped over his shoe and broke his neck, the general goal is still there and I think he’ll accomplish most of what he wants in the next five years. A successor will continue the policies then with the new realities on the ground.

    And I mean, what else is there for China to do, exactly? Continue with the levels of corruption as before? The middle class has higher expectations now. Become a liberal democracy? Well, that’s not really demonstrating its strength in the West now and its not like South Korea and Taiwan are dizzying examples of success. The Party offers stability and so as long as the living standard is improving for the average citizen, its probably the best that can be realistic at the moment.

    Read More
    • Replies: @5371
    Thanks for your thoughts. So a successor will only be named at the 20th Congress?
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  61. 5371 says:
    @Daniel Chieh
    From what I can tell, China has decided that its time for "emergence" and after having accomplished some significant economic and military gains, feel that her model can be exported to some extent. I usually suspect a mercenary goal in almost anything China does, so I would think that its specifically with the aim of "selling" government advisors to states such as in Africa for either money or influence.

    I don't think that Xi will stay until 2027. My feeling is that despite the various efforts to claim him to Mao, he's actually trying to setup a new system that will help exclude a lot of the inefficiency and corruption that happened in the past. Once he's complete with that, he'll retire for a successor.

    The major change is that prior to Xi and after Deng, China had very powerful local provincial governments that in many ways, operated like autonomous regions. It had its upsides, as local governance often does, but it also is the reason why a lot of pollution and waste were created: the "ghost cities" which were made to boost local GDP numbers, the tendency to pollute because it'll be another province's problem(imagine Texas dumping into Lousiana waters and going fuck it), and the disorganized military.

    This is now being streamlined into a much more centralized system operated out of Beijing, and so far has been successful - pollution's better, the military seems less fucktarded, and corruption has gone down. Anyway, if Xi Dada tripped over his shoe and broke his neck, the general goal is still there and I think he'll accomplish most of what he wants in the next five years. A successor will continue the policies then with the new realities on the ground.

    And I mean, what else is there for China to do, exactly? Continue with the levels of corruption as before? The middle class has higher expectations now. Become a liberal democracy? Well, that's not really demonstrating its strength in the West now and its not like South Korea and Taiwan are dizzying examples of success. The Party offers stability and so as long as the living standard is improving for the average citizen, its probably the best that can be realistic at the moment.

    Thanks for your thoughts. So a successor will only be named at the 20th Congress?

    Read More
    • Replies: @Daniel Chieh
    I do believe so.
    , @Daniel Chieh
    BTW, if you're curious about the thinking of the current CCP and their goals, look up Wang Huning. His considerations and theory have significant influence over China for multiple administrations; note that he spent quite a bit of time in the United States as well, and became disaffected from Western-style democracy after observing it in action(and wrote a book on it) . He evidently finding it quite far from the system described in Federalist Papers that he had studied while in China.
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  62. @5371
    Thanks for your thoughts. So a successor will only be named at the 20th Congress?

    I do believe so.

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  63. @5371
    Thanks for your thoughts. So a successor will only be named at the 20th Congress?

    BTW, if you’re curious about the thinking of the current CCP and their goals, look up Wang Huning. His considerations and theory have significant influence over China for multiple administrations; note that he spent quite a bit of time in the United States as well, and became disaffected from Western-style democracy after observing it in action(and wrote a book on it) . He evidently finding it quite far from the system described in Federalist Papers that he had studied while in China.

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  64. Alfa158 says:

    I looked up Elvira Nabiullina and see she is ethnically a Tatar. That must be part of the reason for the rabid hostility towards Russia you see in the Western elites. She is entirely the wrong ethnicity to be permitted to run a central bank. There is a grave danger that someone like her has the “wrong” loyalties and might implement policies that would benefit the mass of the Russian people. Why, as far as I could tell the woman has never worked even a day in her life for Goldman Sachs!

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